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City pushes to bring homeless inside for blizzard

As a major snowstorm bears down on the Hub today, the city is attempting to fit as many homeless people into shelters as possible, the director of the Boston Public Health Commission said.

“Our shelters are very full,” said the director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, at about 4 p.m. “We’re all crowded and we’ve got overflow capacity going already, but there is a place for everyone.”

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Starting Thursday night, Ferrer said, workers in outreach vans from the Pine Street Inn drove around the city, trying to bring in people from the streets to the shelters.

The Long Island Shelter in Boston Harbor has about 417 beds, she said, and the Woods-Mullen Shelter on Massachusetts Avenue has another 250 beds. St. Francis House on Boylston Street, typically a day-shelter, will be open 24 hours, Ferrer said.

Ferrer said Woods-Mullen can also fit people in its lobby, as can the Pine Street Inn, which has more than 300 beds.

Barbara Trevisan, a Pine Street spokeswoman, said the inn will not refuse anyone who seeks respite tonight.

“We won’t throw anyone obviously back into the snow,” she said.

In total, Ferrer said the city has about 1,340 beds, but can stretch to provide space for more people.

Aside from the cold, the wet snow heightens concerns for hypothermia, according to Ferrer, and she urged anyone who sees someone who may be homeless on the street to call 911 without hesitation.

“It’s a matter of minutes before someone can freeze to death,” she said.

Earlier in the week, Ferrer said the city prepared for the storm by bringing supplies of food, blankets, and clothing to the shelters, as well as emergency cots. Even if a homeless person does not wish to take a bed, she said everyone is encouraged to come in for warmth.

Ferrer said between a dozen to two dozen people refused shelter when approached by workers in the outreach vans.

“Those people and the locations where they’re sheltering themselves are given to the police and EMS,” she said. The emergency workers will check on the homeless in those locations during the night and encourage them to go to a shelter, according to Ferrer.

Any homeless person who has been previously banned from the city’s shelters can also come in during the storm, Ferrer said.

“Nobody’s barred when there’s a snowstorm,” she said.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at
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