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Homelessness: Saving lives when mercury drops

Snow falls on Memorial Drive last week.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Snow falls on Memorial Drive last week.

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Just a few decades ago, the headlines after stretches of frigid weather in Boston would tell a grim story of neglect. Every winter, homeless people turned up dead this time of year, frozen to death. So it came as a relief when an Arctic cold snap late last month faded with no reported deaths. City and aid organizations have made significant progress at keeping people alive during extreme weather.

In part, that’s because the number of homeless living in Boston has declined overall; fewer are dying on the streets because fewer are living on the streets. But groups like Pine Street Inn have also deployed extensive programs for reaching homeless residents during cold weather, handing out blankets and soup and offering rides. In the last decade, the number of deaths in Massachusetts from exposure to cold has declined.

Even so, bone-chillingly cold weather remains a perpetual danger in the Boston area in February, and local residents should be alert for — and call 911 for — people outside who look like they need help. Boston is doing better, but winter isn’t over yet.

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