Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Homeless families rise 22% in a year

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / January 6, 2009
The number of homeless families living in Boston has jumped for the fourth straight year, making children without a home the fastest-growing group, according to results from the mayor's annual census.
The Homeless Census showed that the number of families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or even in motels jumped 22 percent in the past year, from 3,175 in 2007 to 3,870 in December. The number of children without a home soared 24 percent in 2008, from 1,850 to 2,288.
As past programs have targeted the elderly and people with drug addictions and mental illnesses, city officials said a new, concerted effort is needed to assist homeless families as their numbers climb during tough economic times.
"For families, it's really about insufficient income to afford a place to live," said Jim Greene, director of the city's Emergency Shelter Commission. "Family homelessness is caused by the divide between people's incomes and housing costs, and when the gap is too great the problem gets worse."
The Homeless Census, required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, is based on a count of the overall number of people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, hospitals and medical facilities, hotels and motels, and on the streets on one given night.
On Dec. 15, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and about 350 volunteers including city and state officials went into Boston's neighborhoods, reaching out to people living in alleys and under bridges and referring them to shelters and programs.
City officials counted an overall total of 7,681 homeless people that night - which included individuals and family members - up from 6,930 last year, an 11 percent jump.
The census, however, also showed that while the number of families without homes has climbed, the count of homeless individuals only - those considered unaccompanied by anyone - has held steady over the last several years, a tribute to new strategies in reaching out to people living on the streets.
According to the census, the city counted 3,811 homeless individuals, compared with 3,705 last year, a 3 percent increase.
A positive sign of the survey was that the number of elderly people living on the street dropped from a high of 77 in 2004 to fewer than 30 last month.
"We have made some progress, but more needs to be done," Menino said in a statement, adding, "this census reflects the growing challenge that low-income families, especially young mothers, are facing during tough economic times."
Joe Finn, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, said the stable number of homeless individuals is a credit to Menino's strategy to find people homes before treatment is discussed.
Only then, he said, can officials work with someone to address the root problems that caused them to be homeless - mental illness, substance abuse, or economic woes.
Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of the Pine Street Inn, a Boston homeless shelter, said the increase in the number of families without homes is an ugly sign of the touch economic times.
"I think it's part of a trend across the country, where a combination of so many things going on with the economy are really hitting families in every way," she said.
Greene said that the homeless families often include a single parent who lost a job. In other cases, parents have jobs but still can't afford housing. Meantime, funding for housing vouchers has plunged, he said.
"We need more than just what the city can do," Greene said. "We need the state and federal government to look at the housing crisis for families. We need every level of government and the private and nonprofit sector aligning their resources to address this housing crisis."
Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe. com.

http://www.boston. com/news/ local/massachuse tts/articles/ 2009/01/06/ homeless_ families_ rise_22_in_ a_year/
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