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February 4, 2013

Homeless numbers 'stunning'

Count finds great need for affordable housing locally

NEWBURYPORT — Organizers of last week’s survey of the homeless population in Greater Newburyport say the results make one thing crystal clear — there is a real need for more affordable housing in the region.

Even with incomplete numbers, the figures on the area’s homeless population are staggering, said John Feehan, executive director of the YWCA Greater Newburyport.

“It comes down to that old (housing rights champion) Mitch Snyder mantra: housing, housing, housing,” Feehan said. “We need more affordable housing that people can afford to live in.”

According to preliminary numbers, the survey identified 76 individuals, including five children, in Newburyport, Amesbury, Salisbury, Newbury and Rowley who are considered homeless. Of those, the majority were found in Salisbury, where 45 homeless people are currently living. There were 17 homeless people recorded in Amesbury and another 12 in Newburyport. The YWCA is still awaiting figures from two agencies to complete its count.

Feehan said the numbers are even more concerning in the schools. While one school district has yet to submit its reports, the survey has already identified more than 260 students who would be considered homeless. Of those, only four are living in shelters. The vast majority — 250 — are in hotels or doubled up with another family in temporary housing, Feehan said. Six are unattended, he said.

“It’s the doubled-up number that’s so stunning to us,” Feehan said. “These numbers are much higher than we thought they would be.”

Homelessness is defined as the lack of permanent dwelling meant for human habitation. Under that definition, multiple families living in an apartment legally intended for one family are considered homeless because the additional families are at risk of eviction if discovered. That apartment cannot be considered permanent housing for the doubled-up family, Feehan said. The same holds for individuals living in hotels, he said. While they have shelter, that housing is not considered permanent.

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