NEWBURYPORT — The number of homeless people living in Newburyport and four surrounding communities declined from the previous year, but according to the Greater Newburyport YWCA, which conducted the survey last week, those numbers could be skewed.
The survey, which was conducted by YWCA volunteers and board members, showed that there are 369 homeless people living in Newburyport, Amesbury, Rowley, Salisbury and Newbury. That’s down from 405 the year before, the first time the YWCA conducted such a survey.
But according to Greater Newburyport YWCA executive director John Feehan, there’s reason to believe the number of homeless is greater.
As part of their count, volunteers call area hotels, where many homeless people live. This year, one hotel that housed 25 homeless people according to last year’s survey declined to answer this time around, according to Feehan.
“This year they didn’t cooperate with us and give us numbers, so we think the numbers are actually very close to what they were last year. My suspicion is if you take that number out of the equation, then that’s the difference,” Feehan said.
The definition of homelessness, the lack of a permanent dwelling meant for human habitation, may come as a surprise to some, as it’s more than just a person living out in the elements. It includes anyone living in hotels, those couch surfing with friends and even multiple families living in an apartment legally intended for one family because the additional families are at risk of eviction if discovered.
In conducting the survey, organizers are hoping to accomplish multiple goals: raise awareness of the plight of the homeless and make the case for additional resources to help those in need.
The survey includes children enrolled in school districts, who make up the majority of those considered homeless. When taken out of the final tally, the survey showed that there were 44 homeless in Amesbury, 20 in Newburyport and 19 in Salisbury for a total of 83.
Last year, the survey identified 76 individuals, including five children, in Newburyport, Amesbury, Salisbury, Newbury and Rowley who were considered homeless. Of those, 45 were found in Salisbury, 17 in Amesbury and 12 in Newburyport.
Volunteers also called veterans services providers in multiple communities to determine how many of the homeless served in the country’s armed forces.
Last year a count of homeless veterans identified five in Amesbury, two in Newburyport and one in Newbury. This year, a check of veterans services offices showed that there were no veterans identified as homeless.
Feehan said those encouraging numbers lend more evidence that the state’s recent push to find housing for veterans has been a success.
“What that tells me is the push for veterans has made a big impact. What the numbers also tell me is that there is still a huge need and the numbers from the school are still staggering,” Feehan said.