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Out of the Box: A Community Action Forum to End Homelessness in Greater Boston

UMass Boston's Give Us Your Poor Project Hosts Unique Forum

February 7, 2004 — On the heels of yet another dose of tough winter weather, the homeless, social service providers, academics and representatives from Boston's business sector convened a forum at UMass Boston to take thinking about how to eliminate homelessness in Greater Boston "out of the box."

"The challenge is not only to build houses, but to build bridges too," said John McGah, a senior research associate at the John W. McCormack Graduate School's Center for Social Policy and the organizer of the Feb. 7, 2004 program "Out of the Box: A Community Action Forum to End Homelessness in Greater Boston." The forum takes place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the 11th floor of Healey Library.

Co-sponsored by Citizens Bank of Massachusetts and Gil Steil Associates, the forum invited a broad cross-section of concerned residents from throughout Greater Boston including government officials, teachers, lawyers, developers, service providers, researchers, advocates, government representatives and homeless individuals to the Healey Library on the UMass Boston campus.

"Homelessness is physical and spiritual torture," said Matthew, a homeless member of the planning committee whose story was recently featured on This American Life on National Public Radio.

Greater Boston remains in the throes of a homelessness crisis. In the homeless census conducted by Boston officials, this year's tally of 6,113 homeless men, women and children marked an increase of 27 percent over the past decade. In 1993, the census counted 4,809 homeless individuals.

In a winter when all Bostonians have experienced a brutal cold spell, the goal of the forum is to create partnerships among diverse groups and brainstorm for solutions that may not yet have been attempted or embraced. Gil Steil Associates employs an idea-gathering process called Open Space, which relies on a broad representation of stakeholders involved in an issue.

The Out of the Box forum is a component of the Give Us Your Poor Homelessness & the United States project, a documentary, educational, and community service program based at the Center for Social Policy at UMass Boston's McCormack Graduate School.

After analyzing a range of issues — from affordable housing to prevention to service coordination — the results will be presented to the Governor's Commission on Homelessness, the City of Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission, and made available on the website The forum is also the first model for a forum to be used in Give Us Your Poor partner cities, which include Detroit, Michigan, and Laudoun County, Virginia.

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