2010 Annual Cambridge Homeless Census


On the last Wednesday of January 2010, hundreds of communities across the country conducted their annual homeless census.  For the cities of Cambridge and Somerville, it was our eleventh joint census. 
The count of sheltered and transitionally housed persons was completed by municipal staff.  The survey of unsheltered men and women was accomplished by seven teams that followed a series of prescribed routes through the two cities during the pre-dawn hours.  The teams, composed of a mix of homeless program staff and volunteers, were led primarily by street outreach workers from CASPAR’s First Step program, with radio and emergency backup from Professional Ambulance and Cambridge Multi-Service Center staff.

According to Fred Berman, a Planner with the Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs and one of the two Census Coordinators, "after last year's drop-off in the number of homeless individuals, the January 2010 homeless census reported a shelter count (193 persons) that was back to levels seen in 2007 and 2008; a "street count" (61 persons) that paralleled the street count in 2008; and a sharp decrease in the number of homeless families, reflecting a reduction in the number of State funded units of family shelter in Cambridge (from 32 to 27 units), and a 48% decrease (from 73 to 38) in the number of homeless metro-Boston families temporarily sheltered by the State at the Cambridge Gateway Inn."  Overall, the census recorded an overall 12% decrease in homelessness in Cambridge, from 637 persons in January 2009 to 559 persons in 2010."

According to Meghan Goughan, Director of CASPAR’s First Step Street Outreach Program, and the other Census Coordinator, "counting the unsheltered homeless is an inexact science, and is largely weather-dependent.  This year's street count (61 persons) marks a return to the numbers reported by the 2008 street census (60 persons), both of which took place in mild winter conditions.  In all probability, last year's street count (40 persons) was so much lower because icy conditions on city streets and the foot of snow blanketing open spaces forced otherwise unsheltered homeless persons into more protected settings.  (Our annual counts of unsheltered homeless individuals also include tallies of hospitalized persons identified as homeless by Health Care for the Homeless staff.  At the time of the 2010 census, there were 9 such persons in Cambridge Health Alliance facilities; last year, the count was 3; in 2008, the count was 2.)"

According to Ellen Semonoff, Assistant City Manager for Human Services, changes in the number of homeless families counted by the census reflect statewide trends.  "The State's family shelters have been filled to capacity for a number of years,” said Semonoff.  “Over the past two years, the number of homeless families who had to be sheltered in motels like the Cambridge Gateway Inn increased from a few dozen to over 1,100.  An aggressive statewide effort to use federal Stimulus funds to move families out of motels and to prevent new homelessness has resulted in a net decrease of about 200 families in motels.  In Cambridge alone, 95 households have received rental or utility assistance to prevent or end their homelessness."


"As we have said before, however, any homelessness is too much," continued Ms. Semonoff.  "As is the case throughout America, a depressed economy has caused us to lose ground in our efforts to address homelessness, both in Cambridge and in the larger Metro Boston area.  While the cost of rental housing and living expenses have remained relatively unchanged, household incomes have fallen due to lost or reduced wages, pushing many families and individuals over the brink."

"The City is fortunate to have received Stimulus funding to help these households, and we look forward to continuing to leverage our partnerships with the State, with HUD, and with local non-profits to ensure that Cambridge residents receive the help they need to remain housed until they are able to regain their footing in the economy."

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Richard C. Rossi
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Lisa C. Peterson
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