Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, discussed and released the findings of the 34th Annual Homeless Census at the Long Island Shelter on Jan. 31. Over the course of 2013, homelessness rates in Boston rose by 3.8 percent to 7,255, according to the Boston Public Health Commission census. There was also a relatively high increase in families and children who were homeless. The number of homeless families rose by 5.8 percent, and the amount of homeless children rose by 4.3 percent, cresting 2,000 to 2,056, for the first time since the census was first initiated.
Walsh connected the problems with homelessness that Boston faces to those faced across the country. “These numbers are very troubling and paint a stark picture of vulnerable populations in our city,” he said in a press release. “Major cities across the country are seeing these kinds of increases, as rents go up and incomes don’t.”
Despite the overall increase in homelessness, there are some numbers that have undergone marked improvement.
The number of people who cannot find housing-whether that is in a shelter or a permanent residence-decreased during 2013, dropping by 6.7 percent. Only 2.5 percent of the total homeless population, or 180 people, are documented as living on the streets.
Additionally, there has been a tremendous undertaking to move the homeless population who use hospital emergency rooms as sanctuaries into alternate housing. Perhaps most significantly, there has been an increase in effort to find housing for veterans. According to a press release from the mayor’s office, over 100 veterans were given housing within 100 days last fall as a result of collaborative imitative between city and state agencies.
Boston already has several successful programs that serve the homeless population. The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) is the largest emergency shelter provider in Boston with two emergency shelters capable of housing 400 people each. They have been operating at capacity in recent months, largely due to seasonal demands. BPHC gives assistance to the homeless in ways other than providing shelter. The Wyman Re-Entry Center, for example, provides 90-day support for individuals struggling with substance abuse. Safe Harbor-a transitional housing program-helps those with HIV, and Project SOAR helps its clients stay sober and find stable housing.
Walsh appealed to the city agencies and the people of Boston to continue to help the less fortunate. He specifically called for the expansion of housing strategies with proven track records, but also insisted that there be new, innovative processes to deal with the rising homeless populations.
Walsh has indicated that giving individuals permanent housing options is the number one priority. The BPHC and the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) are partnering with organizations across the city to provide low-cost housing for as many people as possible. The BPHC and the DND are also working with the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Corrections to create a housing program designed specifically for individuals being released from incarceration.
This program would place recently released convicts into designated housing rather than simply into a general shelter. There is also a pilot program designed to reduce home evictions so that once individuals find their way into a permanent housing program, they can keep it. As of now, there are 250 housing units partnering with the reduced evictions plan, led by the non-profit organization Project Hope.
According to a press release, Walsh envisions Boston as “a city that works for all of our residents, where stable families have safe and stable housing, in stable neighborhoods.”