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Boston homelessness continues downward trend

The city’s total homeless and actively unsheltered populations both declined

FILE – In this Dec. 5, 2020, file photo, a man who identified himself as Wheeler, left, speaks with Dave Marlon of CrossRoads of Southern Nevada, during an outreach in the underground tunnels to offer counseling, food and water to the homeless living beneath the city in Las Vegas. When census takers tried to count the nation’s homeless population, they ran into many problems that could threaten the accuracy of the effort. That’s what a half dozen census takers around the U.S. tell The Associated Press. (AP Photo/David Becker, File)

Data from Boston’s annual homeless census seems to suggest the city’s efforts to mitigate the issue may just be making progress.

The city’s homeless population, as counted by city officials and volunteers Feb. 23 during the 42nd annual homeless census, decreased by 2.4% from 2021. The drop brings the measure for the number of people experiencing homeless at one point in 2022 down to 1,545.

This follows a much steeper 24% drop in 2021, attributed in part to a coordinated effort to de-concentrate shelters during the start of the pandemic, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

The decrease includes a 15% drop in the population of homeless veterans, totaling 180.

Despite the broad downward trend in the homeless population, the number of homeless families in Boston increased in 2022, from 843 to 929. The city lined up a Commission to End Family Homelessness earlier in the year, aiming to develop a response to the issue.

Though Boston remains high nationally for rate of homelessness, the rate of unsheltered homelessness is relatively low compared to major U.S. cities, according to 2021 Department of Housing and Urban Development data.

The number of people living on the street dropped by 30% in 2022, totaling 119 people and marking the first decrease in the population since 2019.

“We are pleased to see a decrease in Boston’s numbers, especially given the national picture, where street homelessness is at 39% (according to the most recent national HUD data in 2019),” said Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn. “We know we still have work to do, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Mayor (Michelle) Wu and the Mayor’s Office of Housing to scale up permanent supportive housing.”

The mayor’s office cited the city’s Street-to-Home Initiative, which placed 150 people in housing prior to the census count, along with other efforts to funnel CARES Act and other funds into housing and supportive services.

The investment includes efforts to decentralize and mitigate issues within the large Mass and Cass homeless encampment.

The census counts, Mayor Michelle Wu said, should help the city implement more informed plans and “move closer to ensuring everyone has a safe, healthy home.”

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