[Hpn] Boston, MA - Crowded shelters turn more away - Boston Globe August 9, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Sat, 10 Aug 2002 07:28:42 -0500

Crowded shelters turn more away
Budget cuts worsen the plight of homeless

The overcrowding has been exacerbated by state cuts of 328 beds,
which took effect the first of this month and forced major shelters to
stop providing meals and cots to hundreds of people every night.

By David Abel - The Boston Globe - August 9, 2002

As a record number of homeless men and women seek shelter across
the state this summer - in some cases nearing winter demand
levels - budget cuts have forced shelters to eliminate beds and
turn more of the homeless onto the streets, social workers and
advocates say.

The overcrowding has been exacerbated by state cuts of 328 beds,
which took effect the first of this month and forced major
shelters to stop providing meals and cots to hundreds of people
every night.

''It's an absolute tragedy,'' said John Mulvihill, shelter
director of the Boston Rescue Mission, which lost $54,000 last
month when it continued the service, despite the lack of
government compensation. ''These people have nowhere to go. And
the cost isn't going to be saved. It's just going to go to other
services, like medical care and jails.''

There were 115 homeless people for every 100 shelter beds
throughout the state in June - an unprecedented high for the time
of year, according to a survey by the Massachusetts Housing and
Shelter Alliance.

Shelters throughout the state first surpassed their capacity in
the mid-1990s, and they haven't had excess beds since November

In March, overcrowding at Massachusetts shelters reached an
all-time high - on average, they took in 124 percent of their
legal capacity.

Typically, the number of people in shelters declines during the
summer months and peaks in the winter when outdoor sleeping is
out of the question.

While the demand for shelter beds is lower than it was a few months
ago, this summer's highs now rival the wintertime spikes of only two
years ago.

''The rise reflects the decline in the economy, in which we continue
to see working people remain in shelters,'' said Mary Ellen Hombs,
executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.

''We are seeing bigger numbers of extremely low-income people
 coming into the shelters, and the budget cuts are making the
situation much worse.''

In fiscal 2002, the Legislature provided $37 million for homeless
services across the state.

In the budget recently passed for fiscal 2003, the Legislature
provided $30 million - meaning dramatic cuts in the number of
beds, meals, counselors, and job training programs, among a
host of other services.

In just the past week, as the Boston Rescue Mission and a handful
of other shelters closed their doors to nearly all homeless men
and women, the number of people sleeping on the streets has
jumped, outreach workers say.

Every summer, there's between a 3 and 5 percent increase in the
number of people on the streets, they say.

Last December, in its annual census, city officials counted 6,001
homeless people, with about 270 sleeping outdoors.

Now, outreach workers say as many as 600 people are on the
street on a typical summer night.

''It's felt very creepy, very crowded, very hectic,'' said Dr.
James O'Connell, president of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless,
who spends a few nights a week providing medical services and
food to the homeless living on city streets. ''I'm sure it's the
ricochet from the overflow beds closing.''

The pain has also been felt outside Boston.

On the Cape, the rise in homelessness has led to tent cities in
the woods just outside several towns. And the island's only
shelter, The NOAH Center in Hyannis, has been turning away record
numbers of people this summer.

With a 20 percent budget cut because of the lack of state money,
the shelter - which only has 50 beds - is now considering
slashing services, cutting staff, and reducing the number of
meals served.

''We have very few options now,'' said Tom Brigham, financial
manager of the NOAH Center, an acronym for No Other Available
Housing. ''Our numbers are much higher than they have ever been.
We call this seasonal overload.''

In Worcester, the situation is about the same.

Officials at the Worcester People in Peril Program also report
record numbers of homeless for this time of year.

''It comes down to this: There's just an abundance of people in
need,'' said Jim DiReda, associate executive director of the
Worcester shelter. ''It doesn't really matter anymore whether
it's summer or winter. We're always at excess capacity.''

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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