More than 270 volunteers canvassed 45 areas of the city for Boston’s 44th annual homeless census, starting Wednesday night and going into the early hours of Thursday morning, covering the city’s neighborhoods, Logan International Airport, and the transit and parks systems, according to the mayor’s office.
Organized teams scavenged every pocket of the city in an effort to connect with people and offer shelter, supplies, and resources for individuals experiencing homelessness on Boston’s streets, in shelters, and in transitional housing facilities.
The event is required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, which determines the amount of federal grant money Boston is given to tackle the problem of homelessness. Late Wednesday night, HUD regional administrator Juana Matias announced the city is receiving a record grant of $47.7 million in funds this year.
“There’s really no city like Boston,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in her opening remarks to a group of about 30 people gathered in City Hall ahead of the census. “With our level of coordination and intensity and sheer determination that we are not going to settle for anything less than everyone having a home.”
Wu said this night was not only about collecting numbers, but also about “taking every opportunity to connect with people, find resources, get contact, and follow up with services.”
Wu’s team, made up of City Councilor John FitzGerald, Matias, and other city and homelessness advocacy leaders, connected with a few homeless people in the downtown area. The streets were much quieter than expected, officials said, a sign that the city’s efforts to combat homelessness in recent years have made a difference.
“For the last five years, three years in the shelter and up until now, [Wu] and the governor and the city have been taking care of me,” said Arthur Moody, 52, who had taken shelter inside a small makeshift tent behind the Old State House.
Moody was more than eager to share his experiences with Wu and other city officials who approached him when he emerged from the tarp and cardboard structure.
“Until you’re really there, you can’t know the operations and problems and all of the insides,” he told a Globe reporter. “Now, since being in a shelter and going to an apartment and all of this, to experience the outside homeless life and to give her some of the insights of the shelter [is important].”
Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn, the region’s largest provider of homelessness services, emphasized the importance of connecting with those who experience homelessness on the streets firsthand.
“It just puts everything in perspective,” she said. “We work with homeless people every day but I think [the census] makes you realize despite all our efforts, there are still people on the streets.”
Downie, who has participated in the census night for more than 30 years, said there’s still work to be done.
“There’s a whole group who engages with us, and then there’s a whole group who won’t even talk to us,” she said. “And that’s the group I’m worried about.”
Volunteers canvassed assigned areas, identified those sleeping on the street, conducted a short survey, and provided individuals with important safety information and items to help them keep warm.
The data from the in-person surveys of unsheltered individuals will undergo a thorough analysis for accuracy and will be cross-checked and combined with the results of the shelter count, according to the mayor’s office.
In June, Wu’s office announced the number of individuals experiencing homelessness on the night of the census rose by 16.7 percent, from 1,545 in 2022 to 1,803 in 2023.
This year’s homeless census results will be available in the coming months.
“The goal for us is our dollars are being leveraged not just for transitional and shelter uses, but for getting people into permanent housing and supportive services,” Matias said of the HUD’s outlook on census night. “This allows us to inject intervention and dollars where they’re needed most.”
The efforts of Wu to connect with homeless Bostonians on the street did not go unappreciated by Moody, who said the census provided an outlet to propel his voice forward to people capable of enacting change.
“To see her out here, on a night like tonight, that’s amazing,” he said.