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Homeless resources for cold weather

Last updated: 12/9/16

Homeless resources for cold weather

Extreme cold weather and winter storms can put homeless people, who may suffer from medical and behavioral health conditions, at risk.

The City of Boston has been working closely with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Continuum of Care agencies to respond proactively to the health, safety, and care needs of homeless people, especially in extreme cold weather conditions.

During winter storms or any time the temperature falls below freezing, a network of city agencies, homeless shelters, street outreach and other community partners mobilizes to provide resources and services to help the homeless in winter. Funded jointly by the City of Boston, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) agencies, this plan ensures that every individual who is in need of a shelter bed this winter will have one, and that behavioral health and medical services are facilitated for vulnerable homeless persons.

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Neighborhood Development
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Boston, MA 02108-2501
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Emergency Contacts

In cold weather, put the safety and well-being of vulnerable neighbors first. For any medical or safety emergency, ALWAYS call 9‐1‐1.

For other, non‐emergency concerns regarding homeless persons in need, please contact BOS:311.

Key Public Health and Public Safety Partners

The Department of Neighborhood Development, Boston Public Health Commission Homeless Services, and Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services coordinate efforts on:

  • emergency shelters
  • outreach providers
  • substance abuse services, and
  • other community or municipal partner agencies.

The goal is to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable homeless persons.

Important public health and public safety partners include:

  • The Boston Police Department
  • Boston EMS
  • Boston 311 - the Mayor’s 24 Hour Constituent Services Help-line
  • the Boston Park Rangers
  • MBTA Police
  • the Massachusetts State Police, and
  • Boston Municipal Protective Services.

Monitoring Shelter Capacity and Providing Winter Overflow

The Boston Public Health Commission Homeless Services Bureau monitors the nightly census of adult emergency shelters.  Aside from 1,481 year-round emergency shelter beds, there are now 242 overflow beds, including 172 male beds and 70 women’s beds. These overflow beds been brought online at:

  • Pine Street Inn
  • Boston Homeless Services
  • Boston Rescue Mission
  • the Boston Night Center, and
  • Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

At present, there is adequate capacity to meet demand. Additional capacity can be brought on quickly in the event of a winter storm emergency, extreme cold temperatures or in response to increased demand.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters, funded by EOHHS agencies, is available to support young adults this winter.  

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is funding additional overflow winter beds statewide to support agencies in other communities and reduce the impact of regional shelter demand on Boston’s facilities.

Emergency Shelter Operations During Extreme Weather

Boston Public Health Commission Southampton Street and Woods-Mullen Shelters are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During winter storms or extreme cold weather, all guests are encouraged to stay indoors. There is amnesty for guests who have been barred from services, except in cases where violence poses a danger to guests and staff.

The Pine Street Inn's Men's Inn, Women's Inn, Holy Family Sober Shelter, and Shattuck Shelter remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is amnesty for barred guests (unless posing danger), along with front door triage for new shelter guests.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters opens its 14-bed warming center, doubling the capacity to match their 14-bed, year-round shelter. This helps address the increased demand for homeless youth and young adults in the winter.

The City of Boston has worked closely with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to extend the operations of the Pilgrim Church Shelter for Men, now operated by Middlesex Human Services.

The Boston Night Center is a low-threshold, overnight drop-in center for homeless men and women located in Government Center. It's operated by Bay Cove Human Services with on-site support from Boston Health Care for the Homeless and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. The center is now offering a new environment of engagement and harm reduction for those guests with severe mental health and substance abuse issues.

Rosie’s Place provides overnight shelter for 20 homeless women. They can stay for up to three weeks at a time. A much larger number of homeless and poor women receive a range of services during the daytime.

Boston Rescue Mission is providing overflow beds with linens for 30 men. Additional capacity may be brought on when weather conditions or demand necessitates it.

FamilyAid Boston provides on‐call support to Boston 311 for homeless or at‐risk Boston families with dependent children under age 18. This is for Boston families only. If a family is deemed in need of emergency placement, social workers arrange to meet families at Boston Medical Center to ensure proper child health and safety screening.

Enhanced Street Outreach and Engagement

Pine Street Inn provides daytime and overnight mobile outreach across the City, with a focus on areas with the highest concentration of unsheltered homeless persons. In extremely cold temperatures or winter storms, Pine Street extends outreach hours from 6 p.m. - 5 a.m. Outreach vans may be used by the daytime outreach team to assess and assist vulnerable persons as quickly as possible. Outreach hours are also extended into evenings and weekends during weather emergencies.

Boston Public Health Commission Recovery Services Bureau has a four-person outreach team working with persons in need in the Melnea Cass, Mass Avenue, Newmarket Square, and nearby neighborhoods. Two additional outreach workers will provide street outreach network to unsheltered homeless persons in the high-traffic areas in downtown Boston. Outreach workers:

  • refer or accompany clients to addiction and harm-reduction services via the PAATHS or A-Hope programs
  • advocate to lift shelter bans to reconnect clients to shelter and services, and
  • advocate for continuity of addiction and recovery treatment and care.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters provides street outreach five days a week. It also operates a medical van that connects homeless youth and young adults to health, substance abuse, and harm-reduction services. Youth and young adults are referred to the Bridge transitional day program and overnight emergency shelter for youth, or to the winter warming center on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Boston Centers for Youth and Families Street Worker program is collaborating with BPHC to reach at-risk youth and young adults on Melnea Cass Boulevard, Massachusetts Avenue, and in Downtown.

The MA Department of Mental Health Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) provides assessment and referral for at‐risk persons suffering from mental illness. The HOT Team collaborates with the Boston Emergency Services Team and outreach providers. They issue alerts or coordinate interventions for vulnerable unsheltered adults. The HOT team will make their program available to providers at overflow sites as needed.

Boston Health Care for the Homeless street teams bring primary health care providers to the streets and hospital-based clinics at Mass General Hospital to coordinate care for medically vulnerable adults.

Rosie’s Place operates an outreach van that assists vulnerable or exploited women in the Blue Hill Avenue corridor of Boston.

Healthcare Coordination for Medically Vulnerable Persons

Boston Health Care for the Homeless provides clinical care in shelters and other homeless programs, and collaborates with area hospitals and emergency rooms. This includes Boston Medical Center, Mass General, Tufts and other facilities. The goal is to ensure a continuity of care for medically vulnerable homeless persons, and monitor homeless persons at risk of hypothermia or cold weather injuries.

Boston Health Care for the Homeless also screens for cold weather injuries at its shelter and hospital-based clinic sites, and coordinates care for vulnerable unsheltered adults through its Street Team. BHCHP can arrange beds at their Barbara McInnis House Respite when needed, and monitors individuals who may be under the influence of sedating substances or at risk of overdose in their SPOT Program at Jean Yawkey Place.

The Boston Public Health Commission Homeless Services works with Boston EMS and providers including Boston Health Care for the Homeless, Boston Medical Center, Pine Street Inn, DMH, and BEST to coordinate a multi‐agency partnership to monitor and assist high users of emergency services.

Addiction and Recovery Outreach and Care Coordination

The Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services and the Boston Public Health Commission Recovery Services Bureau provide assessment, information,  and referral services. They work with many substance abuse and addiction treatment programs for the homeless and other substance users. During extreme cold weather, the bureau works with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and local treatment providers. They facilitate inpatient treatment admissions for vulnerable homeless individuals.

Coordination with Public Health and Public Safety First Responders

Boston Emergency Medical Services patrols for homeless at risk of hypothermia and arranges transportation to shelters if hospital care is not needed. Boston EMS also works with the Boston Police Department and other agencies to assist people at risk who refuse transportation to shelters. EMS will contact the Boston Emergency Services Team if mental health evaluation is needed for persons refusing shelter. They will also patrol known homeless locations.

The Boston Police Department issues hourly directives to seek out homeless in need and to transport them to shelters. They also check locations identified by District Community Service Officers. The Boston Police Department Street Outreach Team serves as a liaison between public safety, shelter, and social services organizations

Boston Park Rangers patrol the Emerald Necklace Parks during the day. Rangers are aware of all shelter options for the homeless and work closely with BPD, EMS, and outreach agencies.

The MBTA Police issue directives to seek out homeless persons in need and will provide transportation or referrals to shelters when possible.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway Park Rangers participate in weekly coordination meetings to assist homeless persons in need who frequent the Greenway. They also work closely with the Pine Street Inn, the DMH HOT Team, Boston Public Health Commission A-Hope Team, and Boston HealthCare for the Homeless.

Day Centers and Programs

St. Francis House provides day shelter, counseling, case management, and referrals to employment and housing services for men and women. St. Francis refers vulnerable guests to individual adult shelters.

The Women’s Lunch Place offers meals, counseling, social support, case management, and advocacy to homeless and poor women in Boston’s Back Bay.