Wu Leads the 43rd Annual Homelessness Census

Special to the Times

With record setting cold weather approaching this weekend, Mayor Michelle Wu on Tuesday night led a group of volunteers, including U.S. Department 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 43rd annual homelessness census. 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 across our neighborhoods and move us closer to ensuring that every resident has a safe, healthy, affordable place to call home,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “Last night’s Census is critical to ensuring that the City moves with urgency and care as we work to improve the lives of our residents and build a Boston for everyone. I am grateful for our state and federal partners and our volunteers across the city for working with us to safely undertake this year’s count and who made this year’s census possible. With this important data, we’ll continue taking action to tackle our housing crisis across city departments and ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and non-repeating in Boston.”

This year, more than 200 volunteers canvassed 45 areas after midnight, covering every city neighborhood, Logan Airport, and the transit and parks systems. Volunteers canvassed assigned areas, identified those sleeping on the street, conducted a short survey, and  provided individuals with important safety information and items to help keep warm. The surveys will be closely analyzed to ensure accuracy, and then cross-checked and combined with the results of a shelter count. The annual homelessness census required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a key component in Boston receiving more than $38 million in federal grant funding for housing and services for households experiencing homelessness in Boston.  

“Every year, cities and towns across America are required by HUD to do their Point-in-Time count, an assessment of homelessness on one night in January,” said Richard Cho, HUD Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Housing and Services. “But this is about more than numbers – it is an opportunity to come together to understand that behind each data point is a human being who is struggling to survive and ultimately find their way back home. I applaud Mayor Wu and the City of Boston for their commitment to this issue and their continuous work to find solutions to the most pressing housing needs for their citizens.”

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) launched House America, a new federal initiative that invited mayors, city and county leaders, tribal nation leaders, and governors into a national partnership. House America made investments provided through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) 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. The City exceeded the goals set by HUD by housing 1,161 individuals and creating 739 units of housing.

“The homeless census brings together government, non-profit organizations and community volunteers to understand the needs of our unsheltered neighbors and to renew commitments to solve this critical issue,” said Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing. “The City remains committed to ending homelessness through the creation of permanent supportive housing, providing services that assist our most vulnerable residents and tracking our progress. Boston has the lowest number of unsheltered individuals in the country, but even one person on the street is one too many.”

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.

“The annual census is an important tool that shows our progress toward ending homelessness in Boston,” said Lyndia Downie, President and Executive Director, Pine Street Inn. “We are proud that Boston’s street numbers are very low, especially in comparison to many cities across the country. However, as long as there is anyone on the street or in shelter, our work is not done. We must continue to focus on strategies to move vulnerable individuals off the street, out of shelter, and into the safety and stability of permanent housing.”

In September 2022, the City of Boston submitted a grant proposal of $41 million to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support Boston’s homelessness programs in 2024, through HUD’s McKinney Homeless Continuum of Care program. 

“Homelessness is a public health crisis that significantly increases the risk of poor health outcomes,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “The Boston Public Health Commission will continue to work with Mayor Wu and the City of Boston to improve access to housing and provide critical wraparound services to support the health and wellbeing of our residents who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability.”

In June 2022, Mayor Wu announced that the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Boston on the night of the census decreased by 2.4 percent, from 1,659 individuals in 2021 to 1,545 individuals in 2022. This reduction builds on a decrease of 24.7 percent from 2020 to 2021, which was due in part to a coordinated effort by city agencies and homeless service providers to create alternative housing, shelter, and healthcare options that concentrated shelters during the first wave of the pandemic. It also reflects sustained and successful efforts in housing individuals experiencing homelessness and at-risk individuals, and diverting individuals from emergency shelter to safe alternatives when possible. Additionally, in 2022, with the support of many City agencies and partner organizations, more than 470 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.

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.

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 Boston . 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 www.bphc.org.

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