“Most people walk by them, most people walk over them, and if they could, they’d walk through them,” said Mayor Martin Walsh as he stood in front of over 300 volunteers crammed into City Hall. On the night of January 30, the temperatures dropped into the single digits as volunteers from all over Boston banned together to perform the 39th Annual Homeless Census.
The census is performed in January of every year by volunteers, accompanied by Mayor Walsh, who go through every single neighborhood of Boston to count those who are homeless or without permanent housing, and offer options of shelter and safety.
Shortly after 10p.m. the group of volunteers employees walked the streets of Boston. They walked through alleyways, down stairwells, and onto stoops to find those living without shelter. Once they encountered a homeless person they would offer them van rides to shelters such as the New England Center for Homeless Veterans and the Pine Street Inn, as well as blankets and bags of cold weather essentials.
Jim Greene, Director of the Emergency Shelter Commission, walked up to a veteran who was leaning against the glass of a downtown AT&T storefront. Covered in makeshift blankets, sitting on broken down cardboard boxes in a paper-thin sleeping bag, Greene who began to offer him a ride to shelter. The man was startled and said that he didn’t want to go.
“I want my freedom,” he repeated. The group was not able to persuade him, and he gathered his bag of belongings and walked away.
Others were more open to the invitation. For the next hour, five out of the seven people approached by Greene’s group willingly accepted a van ride to safety. “You can see,” Greene said “Some of them are encouraging each other to go with them, they’re here for each other.”
It was announced earlier that day that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had granted the City of Boston $26.3 million in federal funding to fight chronic and veteran homelessness. In addition, earlier in 2018, HUD granted Boston over $4.9 million to end youth homelessness.
Mayor Walsh also launched Boston’s Way Home Fund in 2018 with the intent to raise $10 million over the next four years to, in Mayor Walsh’s words, “build two hundred units of affordable, supportive housing,” for those facing homelessness. In a single year the organization was able to raise over $5 million.
The census came to an end in the early hours of January 31, and the official report will be out some time later this year. Just before heading out, Mayor Walsh left the community with a few words.
“It’s much more than numbers, we’re looking out for our neighbors… It’s about believing every single person deserves security, and dignity, and hope.”