Massachusetts advocates for the homeless say they fear many are falling through the cracks of the state bureaucracy charged with protecting them, leaving parents and children in potentially dangerous conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

With state offices closed to in-person visits, families in need of, and legally entitled to emergency housing, have had to depend on an unreliable telephone hotline, these advocates say, with calls sometimes going unanswered and voicemail unreturned.

And the evidence that some families are having trouble accessing emergency housing isn’t just anecdotal.

A review by GBH News of state records finds a dramatic decline in the number of families living in, and applying to, state-sponsored shelters or other emergency housing.

And while some of that decline may be attributable to a statewide moratorium on evictions, lifted in October, advocates say they’ve nonetheless seen the number of those facing homelessness increase across Massachusetts.

State Representative Marjorie Decker, of Cambridge, says the low numbers more likely signal a system that is leaving vulnerable families behind.

“Are we letting people fall through the cracks? And the answer is absolutely we are. And it's not OK,” said Decker. “Certainly, during a pandemic, that should be alarming for everyone.

And the sense of urgency is growing - as COVID-19 rates rise, as evictions resume -- and as Winter gets closer.