By Travis Andersen
More than 400 volunteers fanned out across Boston on Wednesday night to tally the city’s homeless population and help people living on the street find shelters and services.
The 36th annual homeless census kicked off at Government Center, with Mayor Martin J. Walsh telling the volunteer canvassers that “we’re going to continue to work every day” to eradicate homelessness in the city.
He recalled an evening when he was a state representative and he rode with a van that took homeless people to the Pine Street Inn.
“I started to realize how grateful I was for exactly what I had,” Walsh said.
City officials will use the data from the census to assess the need for housing and treatment services.
Felix Arroyo, the city’s health and human services chief, said Boston has made strides in helping the homeless and told the volunteers that “Boston has now housed every chronically homeless veteran” in the city.
But more work remains, Arroyo said, as he shared an anecdote from a past event, when Walsh, an alcoholic with roughly 20 years of sobriety, told a man who was sober for a couple of months that he could be the next mayor.
Arroyo urged volunteers to treat the homeless they encounter with respect since “by Marty’s book, that could be the next mayor of Boston.”
As volunteers dispersed to different parts of the city, vans trailed some groups, offering rides to shelters for homeless people who wanted a bed for the night.
Walsh’s group included about 20 volunteers and began walking down Washington Street in the downtown area, where they met several homeless residents, including a woman who gave only her first name, Lisa.
She lamented to Walsh that she has had difficulty obtaining medical treatment for a number of ailments.
“There’s so much going on in my head right now,” she said.
Walsh urged her to visit the city’s Health Care for the Homeless center and said, “tell ’em the mayor of Boston sent you.”
She told the mayor he was “a good guy” and later told a reporter it was “awesome” that Walsh was taking an interest in the homeless.
“That is so nice,” she said.
Walsh also greeted Uwadia Ukponnwan, 32, who sat on a bench in front of a Walgreen’s on Washington Street before accepting a ride to a shelter in a Boston Public Health Commission van.
As he entered the van, Ukponnwan said “it feels good to meet the mayor.”
“I think he touches base with the homeless a lot,” he said.
The city will release figures from the census at a later date.
According to the mayor’s office, in February of 2015 there were 7,663 homeless men, women, and children in Boston, and 139 living on the streets. No families were staying on the street when volunteers did the count last year on Feb. 25, the office said.
On Wednesday night, Roger Gordon, 29, who was panhandling in front of a 7-Eleven on Washington Street, spoke with Walsh and others for several minutes.
Gordon later told a reporter that he had been released from jail in October and has battled drug addiction.
He said Walsh told him he would follow up with people Gordon has been working with in an effort to find housing.
Asked where he planned to sleep Wednesday night, Gordon said, “Out here. I sleep out here every night.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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