Winter Demand For Homeless Shelters Increases Amid Covid-19 Restrictions

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — As frigid winds and cold temperatures continue to make their way through Boston this winter season, demand for homeless shelter services is high.

But winter weather is not the only risk for people experiencing homelessness — they also have to avoid the spread of Covid-19 during the pandemic.

According to John Samaan, the President and CEO of Boston Rescue Mission, the virus has made it harder to address the winter call for shelter access.

"When it gets colder, you have much more demand on the beds," he said. "Covid-19 has definitely made things much more complicated because of the distance you have to keep between [them]."

Samaan said despite the challenge, the safety protocols they have used at the shelter have been working.

“From May all the way to now, we have not a single infection, so we’ve done very well,” he said. Boston Rescue Mission has been working with those experiencing homelessness in the Commonwealth since it was founded in 1899.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Covid-19 numbers for the Commonwealth have been moving in the right direction since the start of 2021.

The agency reports that the average number of people in Massachusetts with positive COVID-19 tests has been steadily declining in the past few weeks, and the state's seven-day average positivity rate dropped to 4.85 percent on Sunday, compared to 8.5 percent at the beginning of the month.

Another facility that sees an increase in demand during the colder times of the year is St. Francis House, a homeless shelter located near Boston Common that has been open since 1984.

President and CEO of St. Francis House Karen LaFrazia said people can even face heightened risk of frostbite while living on the street, on days when temperatures are "brutally cold."

"It’s a moment in time where you have more people coming in, [but] you have lesser capacity, so it’s a challenge,” she said.

LaFrazia said if you see someone out on the street that seems to be in distress, it's important to call 3-1-1 in Boston or 9-1-1 outside of Boston to help them seek assistance and find a shelter.

"You want to make sure that people aren’t getting overlooked,” LaFrazia said.

WBZ NewsRadio's Matt Shearer (@MattWBZ) reports.

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Written by Rachel Armany

(Photo: Getty Images)

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