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Regional Count of Homeless Persons Jumps 33 Percent

568 people were either in shelters or sleeping rough on Jan. 23

PROVINCETOWN — Every year on one winter night, homelessness workers across the country fan out for a census of America’s unhoused population: people sleeping in shelters or who are unsheltered and sleeping in cars, abandoned buildings, or on the street.

The “Point In Time Count,” or PIT count, took place on Jan. 23 this year, and in June the Cape and Islands Regional Network on Homelessness released the data: 568 people were in shelters or transitional housing or were unsheltered that night. Of that number, 164 were under age 18. All but one of the children counted were with family members in shelters, while one was counted as “unaccompanied youth.”

Seventy-six people in the tally were unsheltered that night, including three unsheltered adults on Nantucket and one on Martha’s Vineyard. The count on the Vineyard was noticeably lower than in prior years, when as many as 14 unsheltered adults had been counted there.

But Barnstable County’s “unsheltered adults” tally was more than double the number from last year, or any year since 2019.

The number of people in family shelters has also increased dramatically, from 175 last year to 300 this year.

The overall tally of 568 people was a 33-percent increase from the January 2023 count, which found 427 unhoused people on the Cape and Islands.

A Likely Undercount

The PIT count is almost certainly an undercount, according to Dan Gray, director of Barnstable County’s homelessness programs.

That is because the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development requires that the data include only people who are seen and tallied by counters on that specific night. People living in motels are counted only if a government-funded program is paying for their stay.

“If someone is sleeping outside in Provincetown 364 days a year, but they happen to stay on a couch on the night of the count, you cannot count them as being unhoused” in the PIT Count, said Gray.

The date of the count also lowers the totals, said Hadley Luddy, CEO of the Homeless Prevention Council. While the homeless population is relatively consistent throughout the year, there is an increase in summer that is not reflected in the January count, she said.

While the PIT Count helps inform Congressional funding for homelessness support, Gray said that changes in the tally don’t have much effect on the resources directed to Cape and Islands support agencies. The funding formula “is pretty set in stone,” he said.

Six caseworkers from the Homeless Prevention Council led the count in the four Outer Cape towns this year. They found four unsheltered homeless people in Provincetown that night, and none in Truro, Wellfleet, or Eastham.

The increase in the rest of the Cape’s unsheltered population that night could have been due to relatively warm weather, Gray said. The St. Joseph Shelter in Hyannis and Duffy Health Center’s “In From the Streets” program activate their “winter response,” which includes emergency beds and motel room stays, when temperature and wind chill combine to produce a “feels like” Index below 32 degrees F.

The high in Hyannis was 41 and the low was 34 on Jan. 23, so the winter response shelters did not open that night, Gray said.

The “families in shelter” count was elevated by the presence of migrant families who were being sheltered on Cape Cod at the time, Gray said.

According to the Cape Cod Times and Boston Herald, 39 migrant families were housed at the Harborside Suites in South Yarmouth under the state’s Emergency Assistance Family Shelter program from September 2023 to April 2024, when they were moved to motels in Boston and Kingston.

Massachusetts is the only state that has enacted a right to housing for pregnant women and families with small children. On Oct. 31, 2023, the state’s Sec. of Housing and Livable Communities Ed Augustus signed a “capacity declaration” that limited the state’s provision of emergency assistance for such families to no more than 7,500 at any one time — or about 77 percent more than the state’s budgeted caseload of 4,100 families.

Susan Mazzarella, CEO of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fall River, which runs the St. Joseph shelter in Hyannis, said that a consistent rise in homelessness on the Cape means that St. Joseph, which used to have open beds in the summer, is now almost always at capacity.

The 45-bed shelter adds 18 emergency beds during “winter response” temperatures, Mazzarella said, but there were four nights last year when even the emergency beds were full and the shelter had to turn people away.

“The only antidote to homelessness is being housed,” Mazzarella said, adding that a lack of new affordable and low-income housing units has exacerbated the crisis.

Many of the clients the Homeless Prevention Council works with are paying 50 to 60 percent of their income for rent, Luddy said. That puts them in a precarious position that makes them vulnerable to homelessness, she said, although none of the 424 families the agency served in 2023 had to enter a shelter that year, according to the HPC’s Annual Impact Report.

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