Under the shade of an umbrella, Franco Daamache sat on a park bench on Boston Common Tuesday, waiting out the blistering heat as long as he could bear before returning to a nearby men’s homeless shelter.

“The shelter depresses me, but if I lose my bed there, I have nowhere to go, I’d have to go back to living on the street,” the 56-year old said. “I’m older now, and sometimes it’s not my decision to make. In the heat, I worry about how I am going to survive.”

Daamache has been homeless for seven years and unsheltered for the bulk of that period. In May, he spoke to GBH News during a monthslong period he spent outside, sleeping in alleyways or dark corners of train stations. As the heat began to pose a danger to his health, Daamache says he finally sought shelter.

Of the thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Boston, a small percentage are recorded every January in the annual homeless census as unsheltered, a population that faces a disproportionately high risk of heat-related illness and death in summer. With a heat advisory issued through Friday and the heat index to reach the 90s, shelter providers and outreach workers have expanded capacity and increased services to accommodate the increased need.

On Monday evening, outreach teams at Pine Street Inn saw 120 unsheltered people living outside around the city at night and around 50-100 per day in the past week, according to Pine Street’s senior outreach director Ed Cameron.

“Especially if somebody is vulnerable, if they have physical health issues or issues with substance use, we just try to give them a ride or coax them to come inside,” Cameron said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as giving someone a bottle of water or asking them to just move around the corner into the shade.”

Every night this summer, more than 500 people have stayed at Pine Street’s four shelter locations, Cameron said. During heat emergencies, shelters have amnesty policies in place to welcome everyone, including people who were suspended or barred from shelters for a past incident.

“We let anybody in, and everybody knows how dangerous it is to be outside,” Cameron said. “Once the beds are full, people are either going to be in a chair or on a mat or a cot on the floor, depending on the shelter setting.”

"Everybody knows how dangerous it is to be outside."
Ed Cameron, Pine Street Inn senior outreach director

John, who asked to go by his first name to protect his safety, has been homeless since 2017. As a former outreach worker with a local homeless nonprofit, John has a deep knowledge of resources offered around the city and has helped others get into shelter, though he prefers to sleep outside.

“There are some decent shelters, but they’re hard to get into, and they’re all packed,” he said. “You’re sleeping on the floor in those places. The only thing that’s different is that you have a roof above your head and a ceiling above you, but you’re still sleeping on the ground.”

The general public “looks at homeless people like animals, like human scum,” John said, which he added creates a community-based element of survival — especially during extreme weather. From a shady spot on the Common Tuesday, he handed out water bottles and directed other people toward food and shelter. He also carries Narcan in his bag; John says he’s reversed more than 150 opioid overdoses in the past four years.

“There’s a society of homeless people in Boston, and everybody gets together and helps each other. They really do help each other a lot, a lot more than most people would actually help them,” he said. “Wherever I go to get food, I pick up extra and give out a couple sandwiches to people who ask. You share water, cigarettes, clothes, pretty much anything.”

Shay Basa helps lead Warm Up Boston, a homeless advocacy and mutual aid organization that provides water bottles, food and medical and harm reduction supplies like clean needles weekly to dozens of people experiencing homelessness around the city.

“People are very reluctant to leave their stuff and go to these cooling centers, knowing that if they leave, all of their belongings might be taken,” Basa said. “It’s a very difficult choice that encampment residents have to make between being outside in this awful heat or going to a cooling center and risking literally their entire homes just being swept away without warning.”

Warm Up volunteers have visited with two patients who were placed in local hospitals due to heat-related illnesses this summer, Basa said, and the combination of high temperatures and substance use is a constant cause for concern.

“Residents take care of one another,” she said, “but it’s ten times more dangerous for people who use drugs during a heat wave.”

Unhoused people are more likely to experience a mental health disorder, often due to the chronic stress and trauma of homelessness, according to 2023 research from the Boston Public Health Commission. Cameron said Pine Street Inn works with the city to check in on individuals experiencing mental health issues or substance use disorders, which contribute to a greater risk of fatality during heat waves. The shelter responds to 311 calls and encourages members of the public to call 911 in case of a heat-related emergency.

“If you see somebody that seems a little disoriented or they’re passed out in the sun and not moving much, don’t take a chance on passing them by,” Cameron said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry, and you may save somebody’s life.”