BUMC Faculty, State and Local Leaders Discuss ‘Model Interventions for Urban Homelessness’

Monica Bharel, MD, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, speaks to the crowd in Hiebert Lounge.

State and local leaders joined the Boston University Medical Campus community on Jan. 23 in Hiebert Lounge to discuss the current state of homelessness in Boston and surrounding areas.

BUMC Provost and BUSM Dean Karen Antman, MD, led panelists as they conducted the workshop, “Model Interventions for Urban Homelessness,” a full afternoon focused on addressing the issue as well as potential solutions.

Jim O’Connell, MD, President, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, began the conversation by framing the homelessness issue. Then the audience of approximately 100 heard from three panels, which were divided into programs offered at the state, city and university levels. Each speaker shared information on their areas of expertise followed by discussions with the audience on the various topics related to their presentations.

One of the topics was the difficulties many organizations face in trying to help their clients experiencing addiction transition out of treatment and into a safer environment. One of the biggest factors, according to Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Chief Medical Officer Jesse Gaeta, MD, was a lack of available housing. “Without a place for clients to go, their chances of relapsing greatly increase, she said.

When asked what comes first, addiction or homelessness, O’Connell said homelessness certainly makes addiction worse, but the majority of people begin with an addiction and then transition into homelessness.

Among other topics of discussion were housing programs for at-risk pregnant women, city needle exchange programs and programs offered at BU. Highlights included an overview of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative,  a nonprofit organization whose mission is to aid police departments in helping opioid users seek recovery options instead of placing them under arrest; local outreach programs specifically targeted to addressing the population at the intersection of Melnea Cass Blvd. and Massachusetts Ave. and the data being collected at our point of care locations, such as hospitals, clinics and urgent care facilities.

The participants:

Panel #1 – Current and Planned Massachusetts Initiatives

  • Monica Bharel, MD, MDPH, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, who discussed current initiatives in the Commonwealth;
  • David Rosenbloom PhD, Professor, Health Law, Policy & Management, BUSPH; Board Member of the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative Group (PAARI), who discussed the policing of drug addiction: medical treatment vs. law enforcement;
  • Jesse Gaeta, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Boston Health Care for the Homeless, who discussed the priority of obtaining an individual stable housing.

Panel #2 – Current and Planned Programs in the City of Boston

  • James Green, Director, Emergency Shelter Commission, City of Boston;
  • Jennifer Tracey, Director, Office of Recovery Services, City of Boston;
  • Heavenly R. Mitchell, MHA, LSW, Director, Healthy Start Systems, who discussed the collaboration to provide case management and prioritized access to housing for homeless pregnant women.

Panel #3 – Boston University Programs

  • Richard Saitz, MD, MPH, Chair, Department of Community Health Sciences, BUSPH, who discussed mortality among the homeless related to addiction, care management approaches and issues regarding entry access to care;
  • Jeffrey Samet, MD, MPH, Professor and Chief of General Internal Medicine, who discussed the effectiveness of Office-Based Opioid Treatment (OBOT) and mortality data for homeless HIV-infected substance users;
  • Harold Cox, MSSW, Associate Professor, Community Health Sciences, BUSPH, who discussed the work of the “Life on Albany” Committee.