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Family Homelessness Surges In Boston, Census Finds

This year’s Boston homeless census was conducted four months after hundreds of homeless people were displaced from the city’s largest shelter, on Long Island in Boston Harbor, when the lone bridge to the island was shuttered in October due to safety concerns. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)closemore
This year’s Boston homeless census was conducted four months after hundreds of homeless people were displaced from the city’s largest shelter, on Long Island in Boston Harbor, when the lone bridge to the island was shuttered in October due to safety concerns. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The number of homeless families in Boston has jumped by one-quarter in one year, according to the city's annual point-in-time census.

There were 1,543 homeless families on Feb. 25 — the date of the census — a 25 percent increase over the last count: 1,234 families on Dec. 16, 2013.

The surge in family homelessness "reflects substantial increased demand for emergency shelter and transitional housing, as rents continue to rise in Boston and the kind of deep rental assistance extremely low-income families need remains scarce," the Boston Public Health Commission said.

Overall, the city's homeless population increased 5.6 percent, when comparing the February census to the previous count, in late 2013.

That's after hikes of about 4 percent in Boston's overall homeless population each of the prior two years.

Of the overall tally, the city census reported the number of homeless children increased by 18.7 percent this year -- from 2,056 to 2,440.

Some good news: The number of homeless adults living on the streets in Boston continues to be low when compared with peer cities, the Boston Public Health Commission said in its release. Just 1.7 percent of the total homeless count was unsheltered on the Feb. 25 census date.

This year's census — the 35th annual count — was conducted four months after hundreds of homeless people were displaced from the city's largest shelter, on Long Island in Boston Harbor, when the lone bridge to the island was shuttered in October due to safety concerns. Makeshift shelters were then set up, over weeks and months, to fill the need.

"Despite the Long Island bridge closure in October, Boston’s homeless provider community ensured that the adult emergency shelter system was able to meet a substantial increase in demand for the third consecutive year during an extremely cold winter that set a new snowfall record," the Boston Public Health Commission said in its release.

The city opened an expanded shelter, with space for more than 400 beds for homeless men, on Southampton Street in late June.

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Benjamin Swasey Digital Manager
Ben Swasey is WBUR's digital manager.

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