Annual Census Shows Rise in Boston’s Homeless Families

BOSTON, Mass—On December 16, 2013, the Emergency Shelter Commission, cooperate with 350 volunteers, conducted their 34th annual census of Boston’s homeless population.

The census found that there are 7,255 homeless people in Boston, including men, women and children. This is a 3.8-percent increase from the 2012 census, during which 6,992 homeless people were recorded.

The census not only takes into account those homeless currently on the street, of which they found 180, but also those in various shelters and other facilities.

Compared to the previous year’s survey, in which it suggests there were 193 homeless adults, there were 15 percent fewer on the street. Compared to most major cities, Boston has very few homeless people on the street on a given night.

One of the most concerning findings of the survey, according to the City of Boston, is that the number of homeless families has gone up by 5.8 percent. On December 16, there were 1,234 families considered homeless, or 3,541 people.

In his statement following the release of the survey, Mayor Marty Walsh said, “These numbers are very troubling, and paint a stark picture of vulnerable populations in our city. Major cities around the country are seeing these kinds of increases, as rents go up and incomes don’t. My vision for Boston is that we want to be a city that works for all of our residents, where stable families have safe and stable housing, in stable neighborhoods. I am asking our whole community to work with me and rally around these issues.”
The mayor added that the Boston service providers and the city agencies need to expand successful programs, as well as develop new strategies to combat rising rates of homelessness. One of the more successful programs last year housed 100 veterans in 100 days.

The amount of Homeless people in substance abuse programs increased by 7.6 percent, to 747 in 2013 from 694 in 2012. Two such programs are the Wyman Re-entry Center and Project soar, both of which help homeless clients maintain sobriety.

The census also found that there are 10.5 percent more homeless staying in emergency shelters, such as the Transition house in Cambridge and the Renewal House, both run by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). Mayor Walsh announced that the BPHC would work with other Boston shelters to establish a network, making it easier to connect homeless to a place that can provide them with proper care. One of the largest emergency Shelters is the Long Island Shelter, which has 400 beds. Mayor Walsh toured the shelter as part of the release of the census. The shelter has been operating at capacity in recent months.

In addition, Mayor Walsh said that the BPHC and the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) would work with the Department of Corrections to help transition recently released inmates into housing.

The number of families sheltered in motels has decreased, as a part of a citywide effort to start sheltering families in congregate shelters, instead of motels. Congregate shelters provide each family with their own bedroom, but they share common space with other families. The number of homeless families living in congregate shelters increased by 26%: from 281 families to 354 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of homeless families in motes has gone down by five percent.

To help reduce the 5.8 percent increase in family homelessness, the DND will work with property management companies and Project hope to help families keep their homes. Mayor Walsh said there are 250 units queued to be built, intended for ho

Jack Adams is a local writer and photographer who covers social justice issues around the Boston area.

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