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Boston’s Homeless Population Rises, City Census Finds

During the city's 2013 homeless census, Elisabeth Jackson, executive director of Bridge Over Troubled Waters, asks a homeless person sleeping in a doorway on Bromfield Street if he needs any assistance. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

During the city’s 2013 homeless census, Elisabeth Jackson, executive director of Bridge Over Troubled Waters, checks on a homeless person sleeping in a doorway on Bromfield Street. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

BOSTON — Boston’s homeless population increased nearly 4 percent in 2013 over the previous year, according to an annual point-in-time census.

On Dec. 16, 2013, there were 7,255 homeless men, women and children in Boston, a 3.8 percent increase over the 2012 tally of 6,992, the city’s 34th Annual Homeless Census found.

Of last year’s total, 2,056 were homeless children, a 4.3 percent increase over the 2012 tally.

And the number of homeless families in Boston increased 5.8 percent year-over-year, from 1,166 households to 1,234 households.

“These numbers are very troubling, and paint a stark picture of vulnerable populations in our city,” Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Major cities around the country are seeing these kinds of increases, as rents go up and incomes don’t. My vision for Boston is that we want to be a City that works for all of our residents, where stable families have safe and stable housing, in stable neighborhoods.”

While the overall homeless population increased, the number of homeless people living on the streets fell from 193 in 2012 down to 180 in 2013. That number is about 2.5 percent of the total homeless count. Boston officials say that percentage is lower than most major cities.

The 34th annual census was conducted on a bitter cold December night, which could have affected the number of people the census’ more than 350 volunteers found on the streets.

“On a night like this our earnest hope is that we will see very few people on the street,” Jim Greene, the director of Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission, told WBUR in December.

The 2013 tally saw fewer homeless people sheltered in motels and more in shelters, “a reflection of the state’s effort to move away from sheltering families in motels by increasing the number of congregate shelter beds,” according to the city news release.

The number of households in motels was down 5 percent, while the number of homeless adults in emergency shelter was up 10.5 percent.

The number of homeless adults in substance abuse treatment programs and recovery homes also increased, compared to the previous year, as did the tally of persons in medical facilities — a number that also could have been affected by the census night’s weather conditions.

In his statement, Walsh asked “our whole community” to rally around issues associated with homelessness. He maintained that increasing affordable housing is a priority of his, and he announced a pilot program to reduce family evictions, among other measures.

Walsh released the results after touring Long Island Shelter, a shelter with more than 400 beds that, according to the city, has been operating at capacity in recent months.

The 2012 census, which counted 6,992 homeless people in Boston, represented a 5.2 percent increase over the 2011 tally.

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