by Kate Bucklin
December 28, 2005 - For the first time in 20 years, homeless advocates are reporting a decline in homelessness in the city. They credit a "housing first" project for the reduction.
"Undeniably, the day we opened Logan Place is the last day the (shelter) overflow plan was utilized at Oxford Street Shelter," said Mark Swann, director of the Preble Street Resource Center.
Logan Place is a 30-efficiency unit apartment building on Frederic Street that opened March 1. Its residents are former chronically homeless city residents.
The emergency overflow plan was created a couple years ago by the city and Preble Street. It is meant to deal with overflow situations at the city's 153-mat Oxford Street Shelter.
"It is not a great plan. We are not proud of it at all," Swann said.
The plan is executed when staff at Oxford Street determine the shelter will take in more people than it can handle in one night. Swann said the determination is usually reached around 10 p.m., when 10 to 15 people already asleep are woken up, told to gather their belongings and then led to the Preble Street soup kitchen, where they sleep on mats on the kitchen floor.
"The thought is, you take the people with the least behavioral problems, that are sober," Swann said. "The problem is the people that get to the shelter early to try and get sleep are usually the ones that have to go to work in the morning."
Swann said when the plan was developed, the city thought it would have to be used a handful of times each year.
"In the year prior to Logan Place, it was used 70 percent of the time," Swann said. "It has not been used once since March 1, the day Logan Place opened."
Doug Gardner, director of the city's Health and Human Services Department, also credited Logan Place with the drop in shelter seekers. He also said the housing market has softened, which has allowed more families to find permanent homes.
In the past six months, Gardner said, the city has accommodated about 140 individuals per night at the Oxford Street Shelter.
Swann said that with Logan Place, the city has finally found a working solution to curbing homelessness in the city. He said people should not be living in emergency shelters, as many of the Logan Place residents had been.
"Could you imagine if we built another one?" Swann said, adding that he would like to see a similar housing model for homeless women, who currently must share floor space with men at the Oxford Street Shelter.
In addition to the city-run Oxford Street Shelter, Preble Street runs a teen shelter called Lighthouse. There are also two other low-barrier shelters in town, a family shelter run by the city and Milestones on India Street, a shelter for alcoholics.
The YWCA offers shelter for women and Youth Alternatives has a shelter for youth.
Copyright © 2005 The Forecaster