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Mayor Michelle Wu Leads the 42nd Annual Homelessness Census

The annual count of Bostonians experiencing homelessness, guiding the allocation of City resources.

Mayor Michelle Wu yesterday led a reduced group of volunteers, including U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development officials, City officials, State officials, homelessness services providers, and public health and first responders, in conducting the City of Boston’s 42nd annual homelessness census. Census organizers intentionally reduced the number of volunteers and began later this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The street count is part of the City's comprehensive yearly census of unsheltered adults, youth, and families in emergency shelters, transitional housing, domestic violence programs, as well as individuals living outside. The census helps inform the City of Boston’s policy development and allocation of resources for households experiencing homelessness.

“Boston’s annual homelessness census is an opportunity to assess the need for housing in Boston and move closer to the goal of ensuring every resident has a safe, healthy home,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I am grateful for state and federal partners working with us to safely undertake this year’s count while taking pandemic-related precautions, and all the volunteers who made this year’s census possible. With this important data, we’ll continue taking action to tackle housing insecurity across our neighborhoods.”

This year, more than 150 volunteers canvassed 45 areas after midnight, covering every city 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, when that could be conducted safely per COVID-19 guidelines. The surveys will be closely analyzed to ensure accuracy, and then cross-checked and combined with the results of the simultaneous shelter count. The annual homelessness census is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a key component of Boston's $38 million federal grant for housing and services for households experiencing homelessness. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston received an extension from HUD and the Mayor’s Office of Housing postponed the census from late January to February 23rd. 

Boston continues to have the lowest percentage of unsheltered homelessness of any major city as of 2020, the most recent year for which HUD has published national area-by-area data. In 2021, the unsheltered count was waived as a requirement for cities. On a single night in 2021, more than 326,000 people experienced sheltered homelessness in the United States, a decrease of eight percent from 2020. For Boston’s last census, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness decreased by 24.7 percent from 2,115 individuals in 2020 to 1,591 in 2021. In 2021, there were no unsheltered families on the streets of Boston on the night of the census.  

“The Point-in-Time (PIT) count offers an important snapshot into homelessness in America’s communities, and we are pleased to join the Mayor in carrying out this important work,” said Arthur Jemison, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “HUD will continue to work with Boston and other communities to tackle the homelessness crisis by leveraging federal resources like those in the American Rescue Plan and by putting Housing First. ”  

House America, an All-Hands-on-Deck Effort to Address the Nation's Homelessness Crisis, is a federal initiative in which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) are inviting mayors, city and county leaders, tribal nation leaders, and governors into a national partnership. House America will utilize the historic investments provided through the American Rescue Plan to address the crisis of homelessness through a Housing First approach. As part of the House America initiative, the City of Boston committed to rehouse 1,100 households experiencing homelessness and build over 650 units of housing for people facing housing insecurity by the end of 2022.

“Collaborating with cities, like Boston, to understand the needs of our communities is crucial to our goal of making homelessness a rare, brief, and one-time occurrence,” said Richard Cho, Senior Advisor for Housing and Services at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We continue to look forward to partnering with cities across the nation to ensure that every person has the security of safe and dignified housing.”

The City of Boston and its partners continue to work to end chronic and veteran homelessness using the “housing first” approach, an evidence-based approach to ending homelessness that uses principles such as the philosophies that everyone is “housing ready” and everyone deserves permanent and stable housing without preconditions like sobriety or treatment. 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 homeless individuals with housing and services.

This year, the City of Boston anticipates receiving about $40 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support Boston's homelessness programs in 2022 through HUD’s McKinney Homeless Continuum of Care program. 

Housing is central to the City of Boston’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mayor recently announced a number of actions aimed to strengthen resources for affordable housing, including an audit of City-owned property that could be used for affordable housing development; proposed legislation that would give Boston the ability to implement a fee of up to two percent on the purchase price of any private real estate sale over $2 million, as a means to generate additional funding for affordable housing; studies to assess the current linkage (commercial) and inclusionary development (residential) levels to determine if there is the ability to generate more funds for affordable housing from development and, the Mayor is working on creating a rent stabilization advisory group to study rents in Boston, led by the newly-renamed Mayor’s Office of Housing. 

“Ending homelessness is a critical public health issue,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “The annual census is an important opportunity to build trust with residents who are experiencing homelessness and develop immediate and long term solutions necessary to support their diverse needs.” 

Additionally, with the support of many City agencies and partner organizations, more than 150 individuals formerly living unsheltered in the Mass/Cass area have been connected with low threshold, supportive housing. 

The results from this year’s homeless census will be available in the coming months.

About the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH)

The Mayor’s Office of Housing is responsible for housing people experiencing homelessness, creating and preserving affordable housing, and ensuring that renters and homeowners can obtain, maintain, and remain in safe, stable housing. The department develops and implements the City of Boston’s housing creation and homelessness prevention plans and collaborates with local and national partners to find new solutions and build more housing affordable to all, particularly those with lower incomes. For more information, please visit the MOH website.

About the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC)

The Boston Public Health Commission, the country’s oldest health department, is an independent public agency providing a wide range of health services and programs. It is governed by a seven-member board of health appointed by the Mayor of Bosto​n​.The mission of the Boston Public Health Commission is to protect, preserve, and promote the health and well-being of all Boston residents, particularly the most vulnerable. For more information, please visit

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    Published by: Housing
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