Petition for rapid and non-congregate shelter of the unhoused

        Accelerating since the economic crisis of 2007, the number of unhoused Bay Staters today is double what it was in 1990[1], making Massachusetts top-five in the country for rising homelessness.[2] Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development counted over 18,400 people experiencing homelessness across Massachusetts[3], with more than 6,200 people in Boston, MA, alone.[4] As the impacts of COVID-19 and its handling are felt, the number of people becoming homeless for the first time or returning to homelessness is predicted to rise along with layoffs and evictions during the months ahead.[5] These evictions will cause people to cram into shelters, encampments, and family units, decreasing their physical distance from one another and their ability to engage in recommended hygiene practices, which will rapidly fuel new infections. 

Responding to the challenge of rising homelessness, Massachusetts leads the nation in sheltering its residents, with over 95 percent of those who experience homelessness utilizing emergency shelters.[6] Despite a high mark for congregate support, and perhaps because of it, demographic and environmental factors mean that people experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of serious infection and fatality compared with people who are stably housed.[7] As advocates, caregivers, and clinicians, we learn everyday how the physical and mental pain of being unhoused makes it even harder to stay in care.[8] [9] We see how adults experiencing homelessness are admitted to hospitals 10-15 years earlier than housed people with the same conditions.[10] Additionally, we know that most homeless individuals in Boston, as in New York City and Los Angeles, are between 50 and 55 years of age.[11] [12] This creates increased concern about their adjusted risk for COVID-19 infection, which is comparable with adults older than 65 years, who are most susceptible to the virus.[13]

            We believe inadequate access to sanitation and structural obstacles to testing calls for immediate action to protect those experiencing homelessness, a population positioned to bear the greatest burden of the COVID-19 crisis over the weeks and months ahead. Forty percent of adults experiencing homelessness are expected to become sick with COVID-19 before the virus peaks. [14] Bold steps are needed to ensure private accommodation to all who are at risk of infection. We recognize rapid housing programs being set up in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles [15], Charlotte [16], Seattle [17], and Philadelphia [18] where private beds and baths will save lives. We commend Boston mayor Marty Walsh’s push to add beds to sites across the city where unhoused people can practice social distancing, receive medical care, and quarantine if necessary.

            Communities across Massachusetts have the resources to do the same. Hotel rooms, college dorms, vacant apartments--all these spaces should be considered now to help those without homes who are at such severe risk. Emergency shelters where guests congregate and sleep together in close quarters are not safe for individuals and the wider community. There are empty beds in hotels across the state, one-fifth of which have now closed entirely.[19] We acknowledge and support collaborations between the City of Boston, The Pine Street Inn, and Suffolk University to temporarily house people experiencing homelessness in private dorm rooms with full access to complete sanitary facilities. On behalf of and together with people experiencing homelessness, who we know, love, and serve, we make this request. Uphold Massachusetts’ record for sheltering the unhoused and go even further now by ensuring that every resident at risk of COVID-19 has access to a private bedroom and bathroom where they can be warm, dry, and safe. We ask our state government to make this urgency a priority that lasts beyond this time of crisis.









[8]Hopper, K. (2003). Reckoning with Homelessness. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY.

[9] Bourgios, P. and Schonberg, J. (2009). Righteous Dopefiend. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.

[10] Adams, J., Rosenheck, R., Gee, L., Seibyl, C. L. & Kushel, M. Hospitalized younger: a comparison of a national sample of homeless and housed inpatient veterans. J. Health Care Poor Underserved 18, 173–184 (2007).

[11] Culhane, D. P., Metraux, S., Byrne, T., Stino, M. & Bainbridge, J. The age structure of contemporary homelessness: Evidence and implications for public policy. Anal. Soc. Issues Public Policy 13, 228–244 (2013).

[12] Culhane, D. et al. The emerging crisis of aged homelessness: Could housing solutions be funded by avoidance of excess shelter, hospital, and nursing home costs? (Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy, 2019).








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