Temperatures plunged during homeless census count

As snow squalls and plunging temperatures took over Massachusetts for much of the last two days, no one felt it quite as hard as the homeless. The polar vortex arrived just in time for Boston’s 39th annual homeless census Wednesday night.

City and state leaders and volunteers canvassed much of Downtown Crossing and other parts of the area to track information about homeless individuals. The intention is to use the data to identify gaps in housing and other services. But Wednesday night was different than other nights, with wind chill temperatures between 15 to 25 below zero in the city.

At times when it’s that cold, people begin to wonder why the homeless don’t go to shelters. Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins was out with the volunteer for the count. “I’ve seen a mayor and a commissioner and members of Boston police and Governor Baker’s team that are helping people and trying to find out why there are some people that on the coldest night are choosing not to go in,” she said.

Some people are traumatized by past experiences in shelters. Others are too intoxicated or suffer from mental illness and are unable to help themselves. In some instances, the most volunteers could do was offer hats and blankets to anyone who chose to remain outside. The census is used to collect data on the demographics and income levels of the homeless, including people in transitional housing and shelters.

Jim Greene, the city’s point person on homelessness, told WBUR he has been doing the census for more than three decades. Wednesday night’s count, he says, was far and away the coldest count he’s experienced.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who was among the group sweeping through the area, announced Wednesday that the city was receiving nearly $26.3 million in federal funding to support chronic and veterans’ homelessness programs.

In 2017, Boston was identified by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development as the city with the lowest percentage of unsheltered people living on the street of any city conducting a census. In 2017, less than 3 percent of Boston’s homeless population was sleeping on the street. The annual homeless census is required by the federal agency as a key component of Boston’s $26 million federal grant.

Walsh in 2015 set the goal of ending chronic homelessness in Boston by 2018. That didn’t happen, but the federal money will help. The city did manage to reduce chronic homelessness in Boston by 20 percent from 2016 to 2018, and partnered with affordable housing owners to create a homeless veteran preference within their units.

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, who heads the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery, recently filed hearing orders to discuss the census and the construction of Long Island Bridge, which used to lead to a shelter that provided treatment for the homeless.

Walsh has promised to open shuttered Long Island for addiction recovery services, but with Quincy opposed to the plan, it remains to be seen when that solution can be reached.

Homelessness is not a problem restricted to Boston. According to a federal report published in December 2018, the Massachusetts homeless population increased by 2,500 people in 2018, or 14 percent. That brings the total statewide to around 20,000.

Some of those may have been a wave of Puerto Rican evacuees who relocated to western Massachusetts following the destruction of Hurricane Maria to the US territory. Massachusetts is the only state with a right-to-shelter law, meaning state and local officials must provide shelter to those requesting services.

Gov. Charlie Baker just announced four pilot projects to help homeless students with lodging and food at state and community college campuses. A 2017 survey of Massachusetts public college students reviewed that nearly two-thirds of community college students who participated in the study suffered from food insecurity and inability to find housing. Forty-nine percent of community college students reported housing insecurity specifically in the  2016-2017 time period.

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

The House and Senate, in their rules debates, go in opposite directions on non-disclosure agreements. The House overwhelmingly turned back an amendment to ban them while the Senate, prodded by Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, approved a similar amendment unanimously. (CommonWealth)

The two branches are more in sync on making the language of their rules gender-neutral. (MassLive)

Peter Lucas says RINO Charlie Baker is just borrowing the Republican label while he looks more these days like a would-be Democrat. (Boston Herald)

A Herald editorial expresses outrage that Baker isn’t expressing more outrage at expense account spending at the quasi-public finance agency MassHousing.

Some younger women state reps find themselves assumed to be aides, not lawmakers, but it happens to men, too. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Weymouth Mayor Bob Hedlund wants the city to approve a tax-increment financing deal to help jumpstart a stalled development project at Weymouth Landing. (Patriot Ledger)

Year in review: Rockland, Milton, and Hull were among the communities cited last year by Attorney General Maura Healey for violations of the state’s Open Meeting Law. (Patriot Ledger)

The renovation of the Theater Block in Fitchburg, which will house Fitchburg State University’s video game design studio and entrepreneurship lab, is an example of the sort of town-gown partnership that can help Gateway cities, the Lowell Sun posits in an editorial.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Sen. Ed Markey has teamed up with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to draft Green New Deal legislation, an ambitious project to address climate change and put people to work. (WBUR News)

ELECTIONS

Crime, economic development, and the fraud charges pending against Mayor Jasiel Correia are issues brought up by some of the four candidates running against him in a March recall election in Fall River. As he fights to keep his job, Correia recently announced the city would end the pay-as-you-throw trash program. (WGBH News)

The Globe looks at Elizabeth Warren’s new “billionaire-slayer” role, a theme The Download teed up on Wednesday.

Cory Booker is in: The charismatic New Jersey senator joins the crowded, and still growing, field of Democratic contenders for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. (New York Times)

Mocha mogul Howard Schultz may drop millions from his caffeine-fueled cash cache seeking your vote, but he has been very sparing in casting his own, voting in just 11 of the last 38 elections, skipping most local and state elections and even some important midterms. (Seattle Times)

The state’s always entertaining former governor, Bill Weld, again has ‘em guessing as he toys with a presidential run but won’t even tip his hand as to what party label it would happen under. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Governing offers a good look at the regulatory struggle between states (led by Massachusetts) and Airbnb.

Lyndia Downie of the Pine Street Inn and Laura Sen, a Pine Street board member and former BJ’s Wholesale Club CEO, say spikes are not a solution to homelessness.(CommonWealth)

No bad news at troubled GE qualifies as good news these days. (Boston Globe)

Low-cost cellphones aren’t that bad — and that’s bad news for iPhone sales. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Holy Cross suspends women’s basketball coach Bill Gibbons for what was described as a personnel matter. (Worcester Magazine) Separately, philosophy professor Christopher Dustin was suspended in connection with sexual harassment allegations. (Worcester Magazine)

Tension builds among students and faculty at Hampshire College as the board of trustees is expected to decide on Friday whether to admit a freshman class next fall. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Dr. Vikas Chaini doesn’t have much sympathy for the biopharmaceutical industry’s lament about all the attacks on its pricing policies. “The pharma sector, the pride of Massachusetts, is a bubble fed by astronomical obscene profits,” he says. (WBUR)  

Dr. Richard Sacra, who contracted Ebola while delivering babies at a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, during the 2014 epidemic, was honored for his medical service. Sacra, who is from Massachusetts, said the $500,000 prize money will be spent at the hospital in Monrovia to build an intensive care unit, install solar panels, and fund a training program for family physicians. (WBUR News)

ARTS/CULTURE

In his state of the city address, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard says he will seek proposals to breathe new life into the city-owned Mohawk Theater, which has been unused for the last 25 years. (Berkshire Eagle)

TRANSPORTATION

Car-free living is more than just an option at some buildings in Boston. Developers are putting up residential buildings with no off-street parking and lease restrictions barring on-street parking. Residents are even barred from receiving city parking permits. (CommonWealth)

A Globe editorial nicks the T for nickel and diming riders with frequent fare increases. Forget about fighting fare increases, says Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, who argues in a Globe op-ed that we should be working on ways to make the T free to promote greater economic mobility, to reduce traffic congestion, and to lower the region’s carbon footprint. Have a listen to Wu on an episode of The Codcast from nearly a year ago when she teed up the case for making the T free.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Dumpsters of containers holding radioactive waste sit entombed at the site of the former nuclear power plant in Rowe at a cost of millions to taxpayers. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants said Gov. Charlie Bakerstretched beyond his reach” when the governor suggested court officials should temporarily remove Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph from criminal cases. A federal grand jury is reportedly looking into whether Joseph helped a twice-deported immigrant evade Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (WGBH)

MEDIA

Poynter has a big takeout on Advance Local, the parent company of a string of newspapers that has been aggressive in going digital. The story’s bottom line is that the jury is still out on the  chain’s progress. Locally, the Republican/MassLive in Springfield is part of Advance.