January homeless count found more are living outside

Data from the city of Boston’s annual homeless census that took place in January show homelessness in the city dropped overall since the start of the pandemic, but the number of people who were unsheltered increased.

The one-night count on Jan. 27 found 1,176 single adults staying in emergency shelters — a 26 percent decrease from a year before, according to the report released last Tuesday. But 170 people were recorded sleeping on the streets — a 26 percent increase over last year’s count of 135 unsheltered individuals. Boston has a relatively small population of people living on the streets compared to most other large cities around the country.

Several factors related to the pandemic helped drive the changes, city officials say. Those include people’s fear of staying in shelters due to Covid, the stepping up of programs that help people find alternatives to shelter — such as staying with family or getting short-term financial assistance, and efforts to continue placing people into housing with support services.

City officials say they and their nonprofit partners have worked together to house more than 700 individuals experiencing homelessness to this point in the pandemic — a slower pace than normal, but a number that has allowed them to avoid a big spike in people seeking beds in shelters or staying on the streets.

Meanwhile, they opened seven auxiliary shelters, including places like college dorms and rented hotels to follow the CDC’s distancing guidelines and reduce density at the permanent shelters.

This story was first published by WBUR 90.9FM on April 27. The Reporter and WBUR share content through a media partnership.