An Interview with Horizons for Homeless Children

How was Horizons for homeless children Started?

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Horizons was established in 1988 to respond to the unmet needs of the enormous number of children living in Boston homeless shelters.  As our first major initiative, we began providing Playspaces, trauma-informed educational playrooms, in Boston family shelters in 1990. We began our second initiative when we opened our first early education center in Boston in 1994 in response to the need for quality childcare for the children and to enable the parents in the shelters to pursue education and employment. We subsequently opened two more centers in Boston. We began our Policy and Advocacy work in 2002, seeking to engage and educate on issues affecting homeless children and families.


Horizons focuses its efforts on helping young children and their families to mitigate the trauma associated with the experience of homelessness and engage in activities that will help them to succeed. Horizons operates top-ranked early education programs, helping to close the achievement gap often experienced by homeless children and starting them along the path toward success at school. Horizons is the only organization focused exclusively on homeless children and families in Massachusetts and has provided opportunities for thousands of homeless children and families to improve their situations and be successful. They do this through their four major pillars of work –

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Early Education Centers: Three centers for children ages 0-5 living in shelters in Boston, providing more than 170 children each day and more than 300 children each year with high-quality early education, as well as two nutritious meals and a snack each day.

Family Partnerships Program: Our highly trained staff help parents set achievable goals, build their self-confidence, achieve self-sufficiency, and ultimately leave the shelter system.

Playspace Program: Intentionally designed Playspaces in shelters statewide that bring the joy of play and the wonder of learning to more than 1,600 children each week with the help of close to 1,000 trained volunteers – one of the state’s largest corps of volunteers.         

Policy & Advocacy:  We highlight the unique needs of homeless children and families to ensure they are consistent priorities among policymakers.



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Horizons provides vital developmental play to young children living in shelters that they otherwise would not have, and closes the achievement gap for homeless children, providing them with a solid foundation for learning and helping them start kindergarten on an equal footing with their housed peers. Horizons has also helped homeless families to get back on their feet and accomplish the goals they set out for themselves.


We plan to build a new state-of-the art facility which will allow Horizons to provide early education to more children and enable us to strengthen and expand critical educational components such as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) for the children, and to provide additional resources for their families. The new building will be the first and only center of its kind in the state. It will improve the education, health, and well-being of Boston’s homeless families and provide hundreds of children with a solid foundation for school.


Grantee Highlight

An Interview with Bridge Over Troubled Waters

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In the late 1960’s, a dedicated group teachers of the Sisters of St. Joseph/Boston began reaching out to disaffected, troubled, and often drug-involved youth on the Boston Common and Harvard Square, which had become gathering places for young people who had no place else to go. Many of these youth had run away from abusive situations at home, others had been kicked out by their parents, and many were being exploited and abused, sexually, physically, and financially by people they met on the street. These Sisters were among the first to recognize and respond to the growing population of homeless youth, a phenomenon which was to grow into a national issue. Collaborating with a group of physicians from Massachusetts General Hospital, Bridge organized a volunteer-run, mobile medical van to bring emergency and preventive health care to the streets. They were on the forefront of a national movement to develop innovative programs and practices to reach the most vulnerable, high-risk youth and provide the age-appropriate continuum of care that could enable them to transform their lives and grow into fulfilled, self-sufficient adulthood. Bridge Over Troubled Waters became–and after more than 47 years remains–a national model and program incubator for youth development services.

What does the public need to know about bridge over troubled waters and the work that you do?

Transitional Living Program & Single Parent House renovation & Expansion

Transitional Living Program & Single Parent House renovation & Expansion

Last year’s results of the Massachusetts homeless youth survey, released this March, counted almost 2,000 young people who matched the State’s criteria for homeless youth. Of those, almost 15% stayed outside, in a car, an abandoned building, a bus station, or other 24-hour business entranceways. The majority stayed in an adult homeless shelter; most stayed outside or places not meant for human habitation. At least 14% had exchanged sex for money. For this year’s youth count, conducted in May, Bridge’s staff and youth ambassadors, collected over 400 unduplicated surveys in Boston alone, doubled the number collected last year. From 2015 to 2016, the number of homeless youth identified in the State increased by 19.4%. As with national homeless youth counts, efforts to count homeless youth locally almost always result in under-counting, yet improved methods and increased support have led to better data. Bridge serves approximately 3,000 youth every year. Bridge’s Street Outreach Workers interact with over 1,000 youth each year. Bridge serves the Cities of Boston and Cambridge, MA; and is the only provider of comprehensive services for homeless youth, including youth outside of the child welfare, juvenile justice, or other government systems.

What impacts has your organization made in your community that make you proud to be a part of bridge over troubled waters?

For homeless youth, the need for safe, affordable housing is of the utmost importance. That is why Bridge has moved forward with new housing initiatives, which can provide housing and prevent long-term homelessness for over 100 youth at risk each year.

·         The renovation and expansion of our Transitional Living Program and Single Parent House programs, which began last year, is just about complete, with added bedrooms, new counseling and community spaces, updated systems, handicapped accessibility and safety features.

·         We opened a new Bridge residence for young people aging out of foster care – a population of youth at extremely high risk for homelessness, and also began the only rapid rehousing program in Boston for homeless youth, providing immediate access to apartments for the most vulnerable youth, along with case management and stabilization services to enable them to stay housed.

·         Our street outreach and Transitional Day Program (TDP) drop-in center also have been expanded. We’re now on the streets from early morning until late evening, to reach more youth and help them gain motivation and believe in themselves and their futures. The TDP now offers workshops on Cooking, Arts & Crafts, Conflict Resolution, Mindfulness, and Coping Skills. A Youth Advisory Board gives participants a voice for feedback and ideas for new services.

  • What areas of growth do you see for your program in the year ahead?

Transitional Living Program & Single Parent House renovation & Expansion

Transitional Living Program & Single Parent House renovation & Expansion

These investments in Bridge and the youth we serve are made possible by contributions from donors like the Doe Family Foundation. There is so much more that needs to be done to end long-term homelessness among youth who never received the nurturing support they deserved while growing up. In the future, we hope to re-establish our innovative “Co-op Apartments” for youth who need extra time and support to finish their educations and reach longer-term goals by purchasing a multifamily residence in one of Boston’s neighborhoods.