Housing crisis leads to unprecedented number of people seeking help from Boston’s St. Francis House
By Lance Reynolds from the Boston Herald
Published: December 25, 2023
Nearly 600 people experiencing homelessness are turning out to St. Francis House every day seeking food, clothes, a place to shower, assistance in finding permanent housing and other resources.
The daily attendance count at Boston’s largest day homeless shelter is the largest it’s ever been as the cost of living and rent escalate while production of affordable housing lags behind, said Karen LaFrazia, St. Francis House’s president and CEO.
“Hundreds of people are flocking to St. Francis House because one: we are kind and welcoming, and we don’t turn anyone away. But beyond the food, beyond the clothes, people can really find a pathway out,” she told the Herald, as she found downtime during a festive annual Christmas lunch on Monday.
St. Francis House, in the heart of downtown Boston, saw an astounding 50% increase in newcomers in the first quarter of this fiscal year compared to the same period last year, LaFrazia said. For the past five months, through November, the daily average went up by 23%, she added.
“It is so crowded inside this building,” LaFrazia said. “In this back room, literally you have to step over people. In the upstairs room, there are no chairs. … In the morning, we open at 6:30, there’s already a line of people waiting to come in.”
Daily challenges at the shelter have coincided with a 17.2% increase in the number of homeless people in the city, from 4,439 people in 2022 to 5,202 people in 2023, according to Boston’s 43rd annual unsheltered homeless street count.
“However, when comparing the years 2015 and 2023, overall homelessness in Boston has actually decreased by 32 percent,” the count found during a one-night effort last January.
Officials found a “massive influx of migrant families entering Massachusetts and seeking shelter at hospitals and other emergency access points” had led to a 17.5% increase in the number of persons in homeless families, from 2,894 in 2023 to 3,399 in 2023.
“If people had their own apartments,” LaFrazia said, “they could cook for themselves, they could do their own laundry. … The most important intervention to help somebody move beyond homelessness is to give them an affordable place to live.”
St. Francis House has completed financing and selected a contractor for a 19-story, 126-unit affordable housing building on Lagrange Street, at the crossroads of Chinatown and Downtown Crossing, by late spring. LaFrazia said she expects the project to break ground by late spring.
LaFrazia credited Gov. Maura Healey and the state Legislature for doing an “amazing job” trying to create financial resources to support affordable housing production.
The Healey administration in October released a $4 billion bond bill aimed at spurring housing production and boosting affordable home ownership in a state starved for inexpensive options.
Healey proposed a real estate transaction fee of 0.5% to 2% on the portion of a property sale over $1 million, or the county median home sale price, with the revenue generated from the fee directed to affordable housing development. The bill also includes $425 million directed to a housing stabilization and investment fund.
“More needs to be done,” LaFrazia said, “but the ability to create affordable housing is a complex process so political leadership to create more expediency in that process (is essential).”
Original article in the Boston Herald: Housing crisis leads to unprecedented number of people seeking help from Boston’s St. Francis House (bostonherald.com)