Annual census shows Boston’s homeless population rose in 2013

A man sleeps on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
A man sleeps on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston.
PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO

Boston’s homeless population rose by nearly 4 percent in 2013 over the previous year according to the city’s annual Homeless Census, which was released Friday.

Boston’s 34th Annual Homeless Census was conducted six weeks ago by city officials, community leaders, and more than 350 volunteers. This year’s results show a 3.8 percent increase in the number of homeless men, women, and children in Boston.

The point-in-time count found 7,255 homeless persons, compared to 6,992 in 2012.

“These numbers are very troubling, and paint a stark picture of vulnerable populations in our city,” said Boston Mayor Martin 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.”

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.

City officials said recent efforts have helped to decrease the number of people living on the street, including the transition of 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 percent of the total homeless count.

The rise in family homelessness and homeless children is a serious cause for concern, according to officials.

There were 1,234 homeless families in Boston on the night of the census, a 5.8 percent increase over the previous year. The number of families living in congregate shelter increased by 26 percent, 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 percent over the previous count.

The number of adults in emergency shelter also rose for the second consecutive year, this time by 10.5 percent. 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.

Walsh on Friday announced 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.

The Boston Public Health Commission, 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.

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.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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