City census finds zero homeless on JP streets

August 3, 2012
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The number of homeless people living on the City streets dipped to the lowest level since 1997, according to the City’s 2011 homeless census. And in Jamaica Plain, no homeless people were found on Jamaica Plain streets on the night of the census, said a City official.

The census, which is normally released during the winter months, came out in July after a Gazette article questioned its whereabouts.

“The last couple of years, nobody has been living on the streets in JP when we conducted the census,” said Jim Greene, a JP resident and director of the Emergency Shelter Commission, which runs the census.

“Which is good news,” he added.

But that does not mean there are no homeless people in JP, as there are several homeless facilities here, including the Shattuck Shelter on Morton Street. The census does not break down those homeless people numbers per neighborhood.
Volunteers found 181 homeless people on the street on Dec. 12, 2011, when the City conducted the 32nd annual homeless census. That is one fewer person from 2010, which was the lowest number since 1997.

Other numbers gleaned from the census include that there were 6,647 homeless men, women and children in the City that night. That includes people in shelters and other programs and was a decrease of 162 people from the previous year.

The numbers of homeless veterans also decreased, from 426 in 2010 to 355 in 2011. Greene said the issue has been a priority for Mayor Thomas Menino, the state and the Obama administration. He said a federally funded program has had a large impact placing many veterans in housing.

Greene said that the City has some of the lowest numbers of homeless people compared to other major cities. He also said the City has the most comprehensive count in the country, with 330 volunteers combing the entire city block-by-block, including MBTA property, the airport and downtown areas.

“We cover it all,” he said.

The homeless census is typically released during the winter months, but when the Gazette inquired why it had not been released in April, the paper was told it might have been because the Emergency Shelter Commission was being moved from City Hall to the Boston Public Heath Commission.

But Greene said the biggest holdup was doing a thorough count of the homeless veterans, which involves multiple agencies, and a change in counting policy. Before, the City counted Boston homeless families that lived in other communities, but had their children bused to the Boston Public Schools. The City did not count families that were from other communities, but sheltered here.

“In past years, we included Boston families sheltered outside of Boston in our census findings as a way to underscore the city’s sense of responsibility for all Boston families experiencing homelessness, including those sheltered outside the city proper,” said Greene. “However, in the past, we did not report on the number of families from outside Boston sheltered here. That number appears to have grown considerably during the recession.”

Asked if the delay of homeless census being released effected funding (the new fiscal year started July 1), Greene said that the general numbers were known, but the City wanted to refine them before their release. He said this did not effect the funding.
“We had the bigger picture, but we wanted to drill down on the numbers,” he said.