Aron: “…this on-the-ground work helped convey a sense of commitment to ending homelessness by being present and reaching out to those on the street.”

Homeless Census

Aron Thiim (left), a St. Francis House Emerging Leader, shares his experience participating in the City of Boston’s homeless census this past January

The City of Boston led its annual homeless census on January 31, 2018.

Many volunteers including St. Francis House President and CEO, Karen LaFrazia, and staff members, took to the streets to participate.  The count helps the City of Boston understand the scope of chronic homelessness to ensure resources are properly targeted.

I first caught wind of the annual census after reading articles in the Boston Globe covering last year’s event.

After graduating from Ithaca College this past spring and returning to the area, I was eager to participate and reached out to Jim Greene, the City of Boston’s deputy director of street homelessness initiatives. He needed someone to lead the Fenway area and I accepted. Despite this being my first census, I am familiar with the area as I work at Fenway Community Health. I also have experience working with individuals facing chronic homelessness and am familiar with the myriad potential issues that one living on the streets must navigate on a daily basis.

The census began with a meeting in City Hall.

Mayor Marty Walsh spoke to the volunteers around 9:30pm and then all teams set out by 10pm. My team was small, only myself and two other volunteers. One of the volunteers works on the Pine Street Inn outreach van and is very familiar with the Fens area.

He helped us navigate some of the main encampments where we were able to talk with folks, check in and see how they’re doing, hand them hats and bags of toiletries/snack items, and collect some demographic information about each person. Most of the encounters were very brief, but this on-the-ground work helped convey a sense of commitment to ending homelessness by being present and reaching out to those on the street.

It was a humbling experience to intimately witness something so foreign and walk away with a greater appreciation for the basic necessities we take for granted.

Additionally, many people experiencing homelessness are a stone’s throw from luxurious apartment complexes, but still reside in tents – if they’re lucky – in the middle of the winter. It’s unfortunate that not everyone is able to come off the street and acquire more stable housing, a place they can keep warm and dry without having to worry.

Over 300 volunteers participated in the entire event, spread out across all of Boston. My team was out until about 1am before we returned to City Hall to drop off our completed surveys and walkie talkies. I definitely slept very well after walking so much that night, but even more so after reflecting on how fortunate I was to come home to a warm bed with a roof over my head; something many of us take for granted.

-Aron Thiim