Pandemic causes increased homeless visibility in Boston


James Bartlett

A person sleeps on a bench in Copley Square

With fewer tourists and workers walking the streets of Boston due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the homeless population is more visible than before the virus hit the city.

Statistics from July to September 2020 show that the number of homeless people on the streets are up in parts of the city, but there is no notable increase in homeless presence in the Copley area, said Barbara Trevisan, vice president of marketing and communications, of Pine Street Inn. However, this does not mean that the homeless aren’t more visible in the area.

Elliott Laffer, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, theorized as to why homeless are more visible around Copley Square this summer than in previous years.

“Homeless in the area haven’t been able to use the Boston Public Library,” Laffer said. “Many of the homeless who were outside the library during the day over the summer might normally be inside the library.”

The problem of homelessness in Boston has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made life even more difficult for a population already struggling throughout Boston.

Karen LaFrazia, president and CEO of St. Francis House, said that much of the noticed uptick in homelessness across the city in the warmer months may have been due in part to anxiety over catching COVID-19 among the homeless community.

“In the summer, the homeless may have felt better outside due to anxiety about densely populated places during the pandemic,” LaFrazia said. “There aren’t a lot of good places for those experiencing homelessness.”

James Bartlett

City Councilor Kenzie Bok, councilor from Boston District 8, said that constituents in the community have reached out about homelessness in the area.

“We’ve definitely received outreach,” Bok said. “I’ve been moved by how many constituents want to help.”

Bok said the pandemic has also amplified the problem of communities surrounding Boston not having the infrastructure in place to assist the homeless community, which may drive homeless individuals into the city to receive assistance.

LaFrazia and Bok both said that as the colder months start to settle in over Boston, the city government and organizations that offer assistance, like the Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House, will continue to attempt to get the homeless out of shelters, off the streets and into permanent housing.

“When people aren’t housed, it’s a problem for everyone in the community,” Bok said.

Back in March, in order to maintain social distancing in shelters, the city, along with help from organizations like St. Francis House and Pine Street Inn, found housing for homeless individuals across the city. One of the ways they accomplished this was by repurposing buildings like the Miller Hall dormitory of Suffolk University on 10 Somerset St. in Beacon Hill.

However, with college students back on campus and many schools utilizing their dorms as well as hotels across the city to house students, it remains to be seen what strategies the city will use to find and fill open beds this winter to reduce the number of people in shelters.

Homelessness in Boston has been a growing problem over the past few years despite City Hall’s attempts to curb it. Homeless individual counts rose .9% from 2018 to 2019, which were the most recent annual homeless census figures provided by