EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

February 4, 2013

Homeless numbers 'stunning'

Count finds great need for affordable housing locally

(Continued)

Feehan believes if adequate affordable housing existed in the region, it would alleviate some of the occurrence of families doubling up or seeking shelter in hotels.

But based on an earlier study completed by the city’s Affordable Housing Trust, a substantial amount of housing would have to be created to satisfy the existing need.

And that can’t happen overnight. Feehan said it has taken the YWCA six years to get construction of five new affordable housing units off the ground.

“There’s a huge backlog at the state getting it through the system to get it funded,” he said.

Feehan called last week’s homeless survey — the first true count to be done in Greater Newburyport in years — a learning process. He said organizers didn’t initially think to contact departments of veterans services in the area communities. But when they did, they found individuals in that population who fall under the parameters of being homeless. In Amesbury, for example, there are five individuals who can be considered homeless; two are in transitional housing and three are “couch surfing.” In Newburyport, two individuals served by veterans services are “couch surfing.”

“We identified a number of people through the process,” Feehan said. “It’s not just guys on the street.”

The aim of the count was twofold: to raise public awareness and to provide data about homelessness that can be used when applying for public funding to address the issue locally.

Feehan said the YWCA’s Affordable Housing Committee, which meets monthly, has been effective the past couple years in bringing attention to the needs and gaining public support for efforts to expand the housing stock. Now the numbers should help put Greater Newburyport in a better position to lobby for state and federal money to undertake projects.

“There’s no easy answer,” Feehan said. “There are families that are struggling, individuals that are struggling in our area.”

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