The Boston Foundation is building bridges to better health

Three nonprofits awarded $600,000 to help homeless families achieve better health and stable housing


BOSTON—The Boston Foundation has awarded $600,000 to a group of three leading nonprofits working on an innovative approach to assisting families to move out of emergency shelter motels. The partners will combine resources and collaborate to deliver health and housing services at the same time.

Called “Building Bridges to Better Health,” the program is led by Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership (MBHP), Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), and Urban Edge. Focusing in the city of Waltham, the site of the state’s largest motel shelter, the partners will work together to help families placed in the motel shelter achieve stable housing and better health outcomes, with a specific focus on children under age 11.

MBHP has been working with families placed in motel shelters since 2009 and is excited to build upon the lessons it has learned, especially regarding the connection between health and housing.

“When your kids are sick, it’s very hard to focus on a housing search, and it’s almost impossible to hold down steady hours at a job,” said Maura Pensak, director of housing supports for MBHP. “By addressing the health of the children, the parents are able to focus on getting back on their feet and getting into a stable home they can afford.”

Health screenings will be conducted by BHCHP, who will also coordinate transition plans to ensure that children continue to receive the care they need once a family moves to their new home

“Homelessness is a huge stressor and a lack of affordable housing magnifies poor health.  We witness this every day in our clinical work,” said Pooja Bhalla, BHCHP’s chief operating officer.  “We are thrilled to continue our ongoing partnership with MBHP and Urban Edge and look forward to this new collaborative initiative.”

Through an online tool provided by Urban Edge, families can find out quickly and efficiently which benefits, including health care programs, they are eligible for, ensuring they get the assistance they need.

“Building Bridges to Better Health is an initiative focused on the nexus between housing and health.  Through the pilot, we have seen the value of such partnerships being able to move families into stable and healthy homes.  We look forward to connecting families to all possible resources which lead to permanent, affordable housing and positive health outcomes,” said Frank Shea, chief executive officer at Urban Edge.

Planning for “Building Bridges to Better Health” began in April 2014 and has since been tested with three families. The partners are eager to launch the pilot program in Waltham with the intent of replicating it at other sites in the future.

“Building Bridges to Better Health” is funded by The Boston Foundation in partnership with the Kresge Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA Foundation, and Partners HealthCare, as part of the second phase of the Health Starts at Home initiative, which is designed to bring housing and health organizations together to address the negative impact that a lack of stable, affordable housing has on children’s health outcomes.

“From the start, Health Starts at Home has taken a unique approach to compel experts in different fields to pool their knowledge, resources, and energy,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “The result of this initiative has been the formation of amazing partnerships drawing from the best in the worlds of health and housing to bring stabilization and improved health to the lives of countless children and families. The Boston Foundation will continue to help the initiative’s grantee partnerships grow stronger, as they implement their strategies to improve lives through long-term housing and preventative healthcare.”

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