Thanks to what City Hall says is more than $9 million in rental relief over the last year, homelessness in Boston is down by as much as 25% compared to before the pandemic.
The decline is measured by the city's annual homeless census, which offers a one-day snapshot of those without shelter. This year's census, released Tuesday, was conducted on Jan. 27.
There is, however, bad news: The number of households where someone fled domestic violence doubled, from 24 cases to 48 cases.
“It’s a little heartbreaking, but it’s not surprising,” said Stephanie Brown, CEO of the nonprofit domestic violence service provider Casa Myrna.
Brown said her organization has observed the hike first-hand over the course of the pandemic, as quarantine orders have confined people and heightened stress.
Other homeless and domestic violence advocates agreed and added that the true extent of the spike may be masked by the limited number of shelter slots.
“In the [general] family shelters, many of them are also there because of domestic violence, but they wouldn’t be captured that way,” said Kelly Turley, associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
The homeless census showed that for the third consecutive year, there were no families dwelling in hotels or motels on the night of the count, though 863 families were in emergency shelter and 51 were in transitional housing.
Even though 35 more people were living on the street on the night of this year’s census count, the overall number of people without housing decreased from slightly more than 6,000 in 2020 to about 4,600 this year.
Laila Bernstein, with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, said that the pandemic is a large factor in both the increase in people on the streets and the overall homelessness decrease.
“People have been avoiding shelter[s] out of fear for their health,” she told GBH News on Tuesday.
At the same time, the overall decrease is a testament to the city’s effective housing strategies, Bernstein said.
“As a community, we’ve housed over 700 people since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said, pointing to the department’s financial contributions to place people into alternative housing arrangements, like living with extended family or in auxiliary sites with more space.
Turley said the Massachusetts Coalition wants the downward trend to continue after the pandemic has passed.
“We’re hopeful that we won’t see a return to higher rates of homelessness, because there is an unprecedented infusion of federal resources to provide funds for long-term housing subsidies and homelessness prevention,” Turley said, pointing to the temporary protection renters now have through the federal eviction moratorium.
The pause is set to lift in June, making evictions legal again.