Within the bustling city of Boston, the streets hide a gruesome truth. Homelessness has plagued Boston for decades, and the number of homeless individuals and families are still on the rise.
Boston’s 2015 annual homeless census counted 7,663 homeless men, women, and children, with 139 unsheltered individuals. While there are fewer unsheltered individuals than the previous year, the total number of men, women and children without a stable home is rising.
“With extremely low rental vacancy rates for households looking to rent apartments and out-of-reach rental costs for units that are available, many Boston residents experience homelessness and housing insecurity. At the same time, Boston -- and Massachusetts as a whole -- have very complex and multi-layered responses to homelessness,” says Kelley Turley, Director of Legislative Advocacy for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
The census also found that the number of homeless families in Boston rose 25% between 2014 and 2015, and the number of homeless youth is on the rise nationwide. The National Homeless Coalition notes that homeless youth are at a higher risk for mental health problems, substance abuse and sexual abuse. Between 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, who are even more likely than their counterparts to experience sexual abuse. It is more difficult for homeless youth to find shelter because adult shelters are often unsafe and there are fewer emergency beds for young people.
However, there are several organizations in Boston devoted exclusively to this issue. Bridge Over Troubled Water has been helping homeless youth and runaways since the 1960’s. They provide counseling, in-house medical services, accessible education and other daily support.
In 2012, Harvard graduates opened Boston’s first student-run overnight shelter for youth: Y2Y. Based in Harvard Square, the organization seeks to provide dignity, safety, and adaptability for young adults experiencing homelessness. Many of the shelter’s volunteers are college students. “What unified us was this simple belief that people our own age should not be sleeping right outside our dorms,” reads a quote on their website.
“Young people are important players in the work to promote housing stability,” says Turley. “[The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless] has been working with youth and young adults for the past six years to create a systemic statewide response to homelessness among unaccompanied youth (young people outside the custody and care of a parent or guardian). Young people with and without housing have come up to the State House with us to share their recommendations to lawmakers and to tell their personal stories.”
Human compassion drives many of the organizations and individuals working with the homeless. Volunteers in homeless shelters and organizations are at the core of the movement to improve the Boston housing situation. Although homelessness may seem like a large, menacing, undefeatable issue, the solution begins with one person’s decision to make a difference.