According to a HUD press release, the department’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report found that in Massachusetts, “18,471 persons experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2019, a decrease of 8 percent from 2018.” The methodology for the report is based on a one-night “snapshot.”
However, Jay Sacchetti, senior vice president of shelter and housing, vocational and addiction services with ServiceNet, which operates the homeless shelter on Wells Street, advises to take the data with a grain of salt.
“It’s not reflective of us,” he said. “We don’t pay attention to these one-night winter counting studies. It doesn’t take into consideration the number of people who are couch surfing. There are people you don’t see, so we don’t really rely on the accuracy of these reports.”
Each year on a single night in January, planning agencies called Continuums of Care, along with tens of thousands of volunteers, seek to identify the number of individuals and families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and in unsheltered settings, HUD’s press release states. The department believes the data is crucial to “understanding the scope of homelessness and measuring progress toward reducing it.”
According to the report, on a single night in January 2019, state and local planning agencies in Massachusetts reported the following:
■18,471 total people experienced homelessness, representing an 8 percent decrease from 2018.
■Most homeless people, 17,642, were located in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, while 829 persons were unsheltered.
■The number of families with children experiencing homelessness decreased by 7.8 percent from 2018.
■Veteran homelessness decreased 7 percent (or 68 people) from 2018. Since 2010, however, veteran homelessness decreased by 42.5 percent. On a single night in January 2019, 917 veterans were experiencing homelessness.
■Chronic or long-term homelessness among individuals increased by 1.3 percent (19 people) over 2018 and decreased by 31 percent (or 615 people) since 2010.
Locally, however, Sacchetti said in 2018, ServiceNet’s Wells Street shelter in Greenfield saw 88 individuals compared to 119 in 2019 — which was consistent with the Pittsfield and Northampton locations as well.
“There’s also an increased number of people on the waitlist,” he said. “There’s been a consistent number of about 40 people on the list throughout the year. So there’s about a 20 percent increase in all three communities over the past couple years.”
There are a number of factors that contribute to the increase, Sacchetti said, such as limited safe and affordable housing, transportation and low incomes.
“We can help people get over some barriers, but we’re not a long-term service,” Sacchetti said. “We have people who stay for two weeks, a month, two months. We can connect people to the resources to try to break the cycle of homelessness.”
One solution has been trying to get two people to “buddy-up” to be roommates together to split the cost of an apartment, for example. However, Sacchetti added, “homelessness is a complex issue.”
By comparison, HUD’s national statistics show an increase. The report stated that 567,715 people experienced homelessness nationally on a single night in 2019, an increase of 14,885 people since 2018.
Reach Melina Bourdeau at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.