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City of Boston holds 39th annual homeless census

January 31, 2019

Neighborhood Development

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Neighborhood Development

The yearly count of Boston's homeless individuals guides the City's housing efforts.

On Wednesday night, Mayor Martin J. Walsh led a group of hundreds of volunteers, including City and State officials, community and civic leaders, and homeless providers in conducting the City's 39th annual homeless census. The street count is part of a larger census of homeless adults and families in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and domestic violence programs. The results from this year's homeless census will be available in the coming months.

"We have prioritized ending chronic homelessness since day one, and making sure that everyone has a place to call home," said Mayor Walsh. "Besides providing critical insight to guide our efforts to end homelessness while offering immediately assistance to individuals in need of shelter, the homeless census is always an opportunity to embrace who we are as a community, the values we share, and how deeply we care about one another."

In 2017, Boston was identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as the city with the lowest percentage of unsheltered people living on the street of any city conducting a census. Last year, less than three percent of Boston's homeless population was sleeping on the street. The annual homeless census is required by HUD as a key component of Boston's $26 million federal grant.

This year, 330 volunteers canvassed 45 areas covering every neighborhood, Logan Airport, and the transit and parks systems. Volunteers canvassed their assigned areas, identified those sleeping on the street, and conducted a short survey. The surveys will be closely analyzed to ensure accuracy, and will be cross-checked and combined with the results of the simultaneous shelter count.

The night the 2018 Annual Homeless Census was conducted, 1,779 individuals were using Boston's Emergency Shelter system, compared to 1,762 in 2017. Boston also saw a decrease of more than 12 percent in the number of individuals sleeping on the street. In January 2018, there were 163 individuals sleeping on the street, as opposed to 186 in January 2017. Nationally, the number of unsheltered homeless has increased by 9 percent. There were no families staying on the streets or unsheltered in Boston on the night of the census.

Boston's Way Home, the City's plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness prioritizes the housing first approach, meaning that when a person enters into the shelter system they begin a path toward permanent and stable housing. Since the plan's launch in 2015, City agencies and community partners have dramatically redesigned the way services are delivered to homeless individuals, increasing resources devoted to housing and deploying new technologies to match formerly homeless people with housing and services.

Since the launch Boston's Way Home, the City has:

  • Housed 667 chronically homeless individuals, representing more than 4,000 years of homelessness ended. (The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines chronically homeless individuals as adults with a disability who have been either living in an emergency shelter or in a place not meant for human habitation continuously for 12 months or more, or who have had four occasions of homelessness in the past three years that total 12 months or more.)
  • Reduced chronic homelessness in Boston by 20 percent from 2016 to 2018, and by 46 percent from 2008 to 2018
  • Housed 915 homeless veterans and ended chronic homelessness among veterans
  • Reduced the number of homeless veterans in Boston on a single night by 37 percent since 2015 and by 48 percent over the past 4 years
  • Partnered with six affordable housing owners in Boston to create a homeless veteran preference within their housing
  • Announced an action plan to support young Bostonians experiencing homelessness Received $5 million in donations to build 200 new units of supportive, long-term housing for chronically homeless men in women through Boston's Way Home Fund

The City of Boston recently received a  $26.3 million federal grant to support Boston's homelessness programs. Boston was awarded the funding as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced the results of its annual 2018 McKinney Homeless Continuum of Care funding competition. The award will be use to help end chronic and veteran homelessness in the City.

Mayor Walsh recently announced his legislative package submitted to the Massachusetts Legislature to create greater opportunity for all residents in the Commonwealth. The  bills related to housing security would prevent homelessness by helping existing tenants, particularly older adults, remain in their homes, and create additional funding for affordable housing. This work builds off Boston's commitment to insuring all communities have affordable and equitable housing options.

Homelessness Boston's Way Home