Advocates worked feverishly to take homeless people off Boston’s streets Monday ahead of a ferocious winter storm, even as the city continued to struggle with a shortage of emergency beds after last fall’s abrupt shuttering of the largest city-run shelter.
Outreach workers in vans have been working around the clock to persuade the homeless to accept a ride to a shelter. They vowed to continue the push through Governor Charlie Baker’s travel ban as long as roads remained safe. Shelter workers planned to spend the night with their clients, prepared extra food and water, and stationed cots in lobbies and cafeterias.
“It’s all hands on deck trying to get people inside,” said Jennifer Harris, a spokeswoman for the Pine Street Inn, which provides emergency shelter. “The goal right now is to get people off the streets.”
Earlier this month, when temperatures plunged, outreach workers were able to persuade some 40 people to leave the streets, Harris said. On a recent cold night, roughly 100 people slept in the lobby of Pine Street Inn, which on a normal evening has emergency beds for about 670.
At an afternoon press conference at City Hall, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his team told reporters the city would work to bring people out of the cold. Although the city did not plan to dispatch its own outreach teams, municipal officials said they were working with two vans operated by Pine Street Inn.
“We will continue to coordinate with other shelter providers in the city to ensure — as we have over the past several weeks — that no homeless individual who is looking for a bed is turned away,” said Dr. Huy Nguyen, interim executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.
Outreach workers were planning to continue driving Monday evening until the staff decided the roads were no longer safe, Harris said. At that point, public safety officials will take up the task.
“Our Boston Police Department will also go out and pick people up,” Walsh said.
In some cases, homeless people who refuse to come in from the weather could be brought in against their will, Police Commissioner William B. Evans said.
“If we think someone is a danger to themselves, we will take them and bring them to a shelter or bring them to an emergency center,” Evans said. “We’re not going to let anyone out there in these conditions.”
The Police Department will have extra patrols on throughout the storm, alongside additional firefighters and emergency medical technicians in ambulances.
South Station was expected to remain open through the duration of the storm, offering another source of shelter, a state transportation spokesman confirmed Monday evening.
Boston’s homeless population has been in turmoil since last October, when the dilapidated Long Island Bridge was found structurally unsound and abruptly closed. The closing of the bridge severed access to the city’s main homeless shelter and recovery houses.
The city established a temporary shelter at the South End Fitness Center, expedited construction of a shelter on Southampton Street, and worked with organizations to accommodate homeless people displaced from Long Island.
A coalition of clergy and interfaith leaders has been critical of the city’s response, in part because temporary cots and crowded facilities can further tax an already fragile population.
“We’re frustrated,” said the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, senior minister at Old South Church, which recently opened a temporary daytime warming center for the homeless in Copley Square. “We’re anxious for a population of people who are already dispossessed and made refugees, for whom every day becomes more dire.”
Boston has seen a larger uptick in the homeless population this winter, and advocates are working with the city to make sure no one goes without shelter, Harris said.
“We’re doing our best to accommodate the need,” she said. “We’d rather have people on cots and mats in the lobby than outside in the street.