Boston shelters expand hours and outreach efforts for winter

Photo: Sushant Bhosale

The city of Boston’s emergency shelters are preparing for winter with expanded hours, more overflow spaces and extended outreach efforts. Additionally, shelters will coordinate with private shelters and agencies like the police department and Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. The Boston Public Health Commission, which oversees the city’s homeless services, provided Spare Change News with the details.

The city’s year-old 112 Southampton St. shelter will be a focal point of many operations, including access to overflow shelters run by the city and its nonprofit partners. All emergency shelters, including Southampton, will be open 24 hours a day and will accept anyone in need. Additionally, the Department of Neighborhood Development provided funding to keep the Boston Night Center open this winter.

Outreach vans will patrol the streets for longer hours, will be dispatched about two hours earlier than usual in the evening and will work during the daytime. They were dispatched three hours earlier on President’s weekend due to extremely low temperatures. Additionally, the city will be working with Pine Street Inn to pull together a list of locations where vulnerable people have been staying outside.

Ché Knight, director of communications at the BPHC, credits a collaborative and coordinated effort between different city agencies and nonprofits for winter preparation efforts. “Boston is fortunate to have an outstanding network of homeless services, public health and public safety partners committed to identifying and assisting vulnerable homeless individuals with both a safety net of shelter and solutions to the root causes of homelessness,” said Knight. “While we always try to improve, what we’re doing is in line with efforts we’ve taken in the past.”

Additionally, Spare Change News notes people should remain aware of warming centers like Boston Warm and Friday Café, which provide light meals and hot beverages on select days of the week.

Last winter was tough on all Commonwealth citizens but proved especially challenging to the homeless and shelter workers. Overflow led to people sleeping on cots and mats in the atriums of shelters. Outreach vans and even the police were keeping an eye out for anyone stuck outside in the cold. Igloos were spotted around Boston and Cambridge, and MBTA stations were open all night for homeless folks who decided to brave the snowstorms and cold rather than check into a shelter.

There are several reasons why the homeless may forgo a night in emergency shelters, even in freezing temperatures and record-breaking snowfall. These range from concerns about personal safety and their belongings to a preference for staying with friends or loved ones instead of shelters that might separate them for the evening.

While there hasn’t been a string of blizzards like last year—which happened months after the loss of hundreds of beds on Long Island—this winter still proved challenging for shelters. As WBUR noted in January, the demand for shelter has been high statewide since the summer. However, while Boston has cooperated with the state on overflow measures, Beth Grand previously told Spare Change News that the city has handled its overflow and has provided everyone seeking shelter with a roof and something to sleep on. “We haven’t had to turn anyone away,” she said.

But even among criticism and a scramble for limited space, the city maintains that it wants any citizen stuck out in the streets to seek shelter. It also urges citizens to call 911 should they see anyone who seems in need of shelter.

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