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Winter Conditions Affect Annual Homeless Census in Cambridge

The annual overnight count of Cambridge’s homeless population took place last Thursday morning from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., postponed nearly a month after the scheduled date for similar censuses across the nation due to extreme winter weather conditions, according to social service worker Mary Shannon Thomas.

Called “Point-in-Time,” the census counts both homeless individuals residing in shelters and those unsheltered. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires areas that receive funding to conduct the census annually during the last week of January.

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For the first time in Cambridge, volunteers conducting the census underwent formalized training, said Thomas, who specializes in homelessness cases. She added that a need to maintain the “safety and dignity of the volunteers,” prompted the training.

However, the February snowfall not only postponed the census but hindered volunteers from fully covering the local county.

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“I think it would be very fair to say that the snow complicated our efforts because there were areas we couldn’t get to because of the accumulation of snow,” Thomas said.

The results of the annual count will be released in the upcoming weeks. According to the census data from earlier years, Cambridge has seen a growing number of homeless people, both sheltered and unsheltered. In 2013, the count was at 537 homeless people, which increased to 551 in 2014.

Cambridge City Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen said that he remained hopeful for the future of the homeless community in Cambridge.

“Prior federal programs were in some senses unrealistic and certainly did not end homelessness,” Mazen said. “We can [now] think realistically how to approach this problem and what we are doing as a city.”

—Staff writer Sara A. Atske can be reached at sara.atske@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @sara_atske.

—Staff writer Annie E. Schugart can be reached at annie.schugart@thecrimson. Follow her on Twitter @AnnieSchugart.

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