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Mayor Walsh releases results of 2013 homeless census

Mayor Martin J. Walsh visited a city-run shelter at Long Island today to meet guests and staff, to learn more about programs, and to release the findings of Boston’s 34th Annual Homeless Census. Conducted six weeks ago by city officials, community leaders, and more than 350 volunteers, this year’s results show a 3.8% increase in the number of homeless men, women, and children in the City of Boston. The point-in-time count found 7,255 homeless persons, compared to 6,992 the previous year.

“These numbers are very troubling, and paint a stark picture of vulnerable populations in our city,” said Mayor Walsh. “Major cities around the country are seeing these kinds of increases, as rents go up and incomes don’t. My vision for Boston is that we want to be a City that works for all of our residents, where stable families have safe and stable housing, in stable neighborhoods. I am asking our whole community to work with me and rally around these issues.”

Mayor Walsh called on city agencies and Boston’s network of homeless service providers to expand successful housing strategies and to continue to develop innovative approaches to respond to the rising need. Recent efforts have helped to decrease the number of people living on the street; to transition frequent users of emergency services out of hospital emergency rooms and into housing with intensive stabilization services; and to reduce homelessness among veterans. Last fall, city, state, and federal agencies worked together to house more than 100 veterans in 100 days.

Relative to most major cities, Boston has few homeless adults living on the streets. The street count made up approximately 2.5% of the total homeless count.

The rise in family homelessness and homeless children is a serious cause for concern, however.  There were 1,234 homeless families in Boston on the night of the census, a 5.8% increase over the previous year. The number of families living in congregate shelter increased by 26%, a reflection of the state’s effort to move away from sheltering families in motels by increasing the number of congregate shelter beds. For the first time since the city began the annual census, the number of homeless children in Boston surpassed 2,000. Census volunteers counted 2,056 homeless children, an increase of 4.3% over the previous count.

The number of adults in emergency shelter also rose for the second consecutive year, this time by 10.5%. Boston’s shelters continue to see both increased seasonal demand in the winter and increased regional demand throughout the year.  Preliminary findings from the December count show that over a third of emergency shelter guest in Boston came from a community outside of the city.

Homeless adults in substance abuse treatment programs increased by 7.6%, including a 10.6% increase in adults in recovery homes. 

The Mayor announced several steps that city agencies and community partners would begin to take to provide improved housing support to those in need:

  • In an effort to house more people living on the street, city agencies will work with Pine Street Inn and Boston Health Care for the Homeless to assess individuals’ needs and to help people find permanent housing solutions.
  • To improve the safety net for vulnerable families, the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), property management companies, and nonprofit partners such as Project Hope will pilot a program to reduce family evictions. Increasing affordable housing options is a priority for Mayor Walsh, and there are nearly 250 units in Boston’s pipeline dedicated to homeless individuals and families.
  • The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), which already supports access to treatment options at city-run emergency shelters, will work with other shelter providers to develop a citywide strategy for connecting guests to appropriate care.
  • BPHC and DND will also work with the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Corrections so that individuals being released from incarceration have a discharge plan that identifies a home, not a shelter, for transition.

Mayor Walsh released the census results after touring programs at the Long Island Shelter, an emergency shelter with 400 beds that has been operating at capacity in recent months, illustrating the housing and economic strain that an increasing number of people are facing in Boston. The shelter is unique in that it is home to a continuum of services for homeless and formerly homeless adults. The Wyman Re-Entry Center, a 90-day residential substance abuse and recovery program supports court-involved men, for example. Transitional housing programs, such as Safe Harbor, which serves adults with HIV, and Project SOAR help clients maintain sobriety and move to permanent housing.

One of the shelter’s more well-known initiatives is Serving Ourselves, a work rehabilitation program where clients help staff to prepare meals and tend to an organic farm that produces 25,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, much of which is used in meals for shelter guests at Long Island and at Woods-Mullen, the city’s other emergency shelter.

Operated by BPHC, the city’s two emergency shelters serve 800 adults each night, making the BPHC the largest shelter provider in Boston.

Click here for the complete results from the 2013 Homeless Census.

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