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Facilitating exit from encampments: Combining low-barrier transitional housing with stabilizing treatment for substance related problems

Komaromy M, Stone A, Peterson A, Gott J, Koenig R, Taylor JL
Addict Sci Clin Pract

BACKGROUND: Tent encampments in the neighborhood surrounding Boston Medical Center (BMC) grew to include 336 individuals at points between 2019 and 21, prompting public health concerns. BMC, the City of Boston, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts partnered in 2/2022 to offer low-barrier transitional housing to encampment residents and provide co-located clinical stabilization services for community members with substance use disorders (SUDs) experiencing homelessness.

METHODS: To meet the needs of some of the people who had been living in encampments, BMC established in a former hotel: 60 beds of transitional housing, not contingent upon sobriety; and a low-barrier SUD-focused clinic for both housing residents and community members, offering walk-in urgent care, SUD medications, and infection screening/prevention; and a 24/7 short-stay stabilization unit to manage over-intoxication, withdrawal, and complications of substance use (e.g., abscesses, HIV risk, psychosis). A secure medication-dispensing cabinet allows methadone administration for withdrawal management. Housing program key metrics include retention in housing, transition to permanent housing, and engagement in SUD treatment and case management. Clinical program key metrics include patient volume, and rates of initiation of medication for opioid use disorder.

RESULTS: Housing: Between 2/1/22-1/31/2023, 100 people entered the low-barrier transitional housing (new residents admitted as people transitioned out); 50 former encampment residents and 50 unhoused people referred by Boston Public Health Commission. Twenty-five residents transferred to permanent housing, eight administratively discharged, four incarcerated, and four died (two overdoses, two other substance-related). The remaining 59 residents remain housed; none voluntarily returned to homelessness. One hundred residents (100%) engaged with case management, and 49 engaged with SUD treatment.

CLINICAL: In the first 12 months, 1722 patients (drawn from both the housing program and community) had 7468 clinical visits. The most common SUDs were opioid (84%), cocaine (54%) and alcohol (47%) and 61% of patients had a co-occurring mental health diagnosis in the preceding 24-months. 566 (33%) patients were started on methadone and accepted at an Opioid Treatment Program (OTP).

CONCLUSIONS: During the 1st year of operation, low-barrier transitional housing plus clinical stabilization care was a feasible and acceptable model for former encampment residents, 49% of whom engaged with SUD treatment, and 25% of whom transitioned to permanent housing.

Komaromy M, Stone A, Peterson A, Gott J, Koenig R, Taylor JL. Facilitating exit from encampments: combining low-barrier transitional housing with stabilizing treatment for substance related problems. Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2023;18(1):66. DOI:10.1186/s13722-023-00420-y. PMID: 37884986

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Needs/ SDH
Health & Health Behaviors
Social Determinant of Health
Housing Stability
Study design
Other Study Design