Number of homeless people in Mass. is up 14 percent
Homelessness in Massachusetts increased by 14 percent this year, according to a new federal report, and local shelters say they are struggling to keep up.
Nationally, there was a 0.3 percent increase in homelessness, caused partly by hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural events, according to a report released Monday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Massachusetts, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose this year to 20,068 — the highest since 2013 — according to the report. Overall, homelessness has increased by 38 percent in the past decade, even as Massachusetts cities and towns take steps to address the problem.
The jump in the past year was due in large part to Puerto Rican evacuees who came to Massachusetts after Hurricane Maria struck last fall, according to the state’s Office of Health and Human Services.
In January, as many as 600 households from the island were put up in motels temporarily, but now all but 50 households have transitioned to stable housing or returned to Puerto Rico, an agency spokeswoman said.
Still, several homeless shelters around the state are reporting higher numbers of people experiencing homelessness.
“We are in overflow,” said John Yazwinski, president and chief executive of Father Bill’s and MainSpring, a nonprofit that provides housing and services to people experiencing homelessness in Southern Massachusetts.
“We are putting emergency mats in our cafeteria, in our hallways, just to make sure we can get everybody indoors and away from the cold winter.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston has made homelessness a priority issue for his administration. Over the past year, the city has reached out to an often-overlooked demographic: homeless youth.
Yazwinski said the elderly are also struggling to find homes in the tight and pricey housing market, and said the nonprofit has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of elderly residents it serves.
“We’ve seen some rest homes close and are working directly to support some of the people who didn’t have an alternative,” Yazwinski said. “We are also starting to see more working people who just can’t keep up with the rising rents. In communities like Quincy, there is a lot of new development, but we’ve lost a lot of affordable housing,” he said.
Massachusetts also saw a 15 percent increase in the number of veterans who are experiencing homelessness, according to the HUD report.
“Despite the increase, there is very positive work that has been done to address veterans,” said Chris Norris, executive director of Metro Housing Boston, which provides rental housing voucher assistance and help low-income residents find affordable housing. “Boston has set goals in terms of housing for homeless veterans and is increasing the capacity of organizations to work with those folks and bring them out of the cold.”
The number of “sheltered homeless individuals,” or those living in places like shelters, motels, or safe havens in Massachusetts rose 13 percent since last year, according to the HUD report.
“There are no statewide affordable-housing production goals for families or individuals,” Norris said. “There needs to be goals to actually reducing homelessness, not just building ‘affordable housing’ without defining who it is affordable to.”
HUD’s national estimate is based on data reported by approximately 3,000 cities and counties from one-night snapshot counts.