City crews and social workers who provide aid to area homeless people will head out in vans for as long as their safety allows Friday and during Saturday’s expected blizzard conditions to urge those living on the streets to seek shelter, officials said.
“These vans do wonders, they really work with our unsheltered populations to get them into shelter,” Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing, said Friday. “Those vans will be operational, unless they can’t be.”
Still, Dillon urged residents to call 911 if they see anyone on the streets who looks vulnerable, immobile, or underdressed. In spite of the city’s efforts to bring people to shelter, some people — including those who suffer from mental illness — may resist.
“It’s going to be on us all to really keep our eyes peeled for people in our neighborhood who might look vulnerable — do not hesitate to call 911, we need to get to people to make sure that they come in and be safe,” Dillon said.
Dillon and Mayor Michelle Wu emphasized that the city and private organizations will create more space to house homeless people as the region braces for Saturday’s snowstorm, which Wu called potentially “historic” with the potential for 2 feet of snowfall in the day, exacerbated by menacing winds. A blizzard advisory is in effect, and Wu declared a snow emergency ahead of the storm.
“Check on your neighbors — our public safety is a collective responsibility,” Wu said. “Stay warm, stay safe.”
The Wu administration said Friday that Boston’s emergency shelters are open 24 hours a day and accept walk-ins, and anyone who has been removed from a shelter before for violating facility rules will be granted amnesty, as long as they are not violent.
The city-run 112 Southampton Street Shelter accepts men, and women can go to the Woods-Mullen Shelter at 794 Massachusetts Ave. Both those shelters are in the vicinity of what is known as Mass. and Cass, the city intersection where homeless and people battling substance abuse addiction regularly congregate, and where the city recently cleared out tent encampments. Officials said that more than 150 people who had been living in the tent encampments have been moved to transitional housing.
Wu said the city-run engagement center for the homeless on Atkinson Street, where one of the encampments was located, will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, offering heated indoor space as well as basic amenities and comfort items such as bathroom facilities, water, coffee, and light snacks.
The city and the Boston Public Health Commission will “work closely with shelter providers to ensure that no client is without shelter, food, resources, and a warm respite from the cold,” the city said in a statement.
In addition, the Pine Street Inn, a nonprofit housing and outreach provider for the homeless, plans to open its doors to those in need at its men’s shelter on Harrison Avenue and its women’s shelter on Albany Street, in the South End.
Barbara Trevisan, a spokeswoman for Pine Street, said that crews will work to accommodate anyone who needs respite from the cold while working to follow all COVID-related safety precautions, even if that means setting up warm temporary space in dining rooms and lobbies.
“We will not turn away,” she said.
Trevisan said that Pine Street workers will team with public health crews and double-up efforts Friday to warn people of the coming storm, and to offer shelter, before conditions get overly harsh.
“We just want to make sure we’ll keep everybody out of the cold,” she said. “With this kind of extreme weather we do what we have to do to get people to come in and out of the storm. We’re just hoping to keep everyone as safe as possible.”