Helping Homeless Clients Stay Safe — and Healthy

Bailey-Boushay House (BBH) undergoes a transformation after 8 p.m. every night, as staff members turn BBH's big room – and other key rooms — into an emergency shelter for 50 people.

They bring in beds, mattresses and rolling partitions for privacy. Then some of BBH's most vulnerable clients – those who have HIV, are homeless and often battling addiction and mental illness — bed down in a warm, safe space.

These clients never have to leave. They have, in a sense, found home.

The road to the shelter started several years ago, when BBH challenged itself to find a better way to help the approximately 180 day-program clients who are homeless.

“We asked those clients where they slept, and many of them said they slept outside because they felt unsafe at other shelters,” says Executive Director Brian Knowles. “They would wait in line in those shelters, get mugged for their medications or be targets of homophobia, and then get kicked out in the morning.”

Brian and his team couldn’t turn away from clients desperate to find a safe space. As a first step, BBH started opening earlier in the morning and expanding meal services, so clients spent less time on the street.

“We kept hearing that this was the only place they trusted, the only place they felt safe,” Brian says.

So the BBH team made the leap to opening a shelter last November. This not only gives clients a place to sleep – it gives them the best chance to stay on the antiviral and psychiatric medications that get them on the road to better health.

“Clients like to stay close to their food and shelter,” says Matt Williams, BBH’s operations director. “If we can provide those needs here, that means clients will also be around to get their medications on time.”

So far, it’s working.

“Everyone in the shelter is taking their meds on time,” Matt says. “It’s not easy to manage a shelter on top of everything else we do, but it’s the work we signed up for, and it feels really good.”