Much of the East Coast is currently bracing for a severe storm that meteorologists have characterized as a “bomb cyclone”, otherwise known as bombogenesis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), bombogenesis happens “…when a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies, dropping at least 24 millibars [of atmospheric pressure] over 24 hours…which creates what is known as a bomb cyclone”. While such a storm poses risks common to any major snowfall event, the cold that is forecast to follow the storm may pose an even greater disruption. The cyclone’s circulation will carry cold air down from around the North Pole and could decrease temperatures in the Northeast by up to 40 degrees below normal at the end of the week.

Airmen volunteer to prepare meals for the homeless at the Pine Street Inn, one of the shelters in Boston.
Airmen volunteer to prepare meals for the homeless at the Pine Street Inn, one of the shelters in Boston preparing for the coming storm. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry Saslav)

In Boston, a key concern is the city’s homeless population, which is particularly vulnerable to such severe cold weather events. Though the City of Boston is engaged in addressing homelessness in a variety of ways, including by providing shelter and working with landlords to provide affordable housing, homeless people still make up nearly one percent of Boston’s total population. On New Year’s Day, when temperatures in Boston stayed below 15 degrees, around 1,700 homeless people filled shelters around the city, which is “several hundred” more than the shelters usually accommodate. While 1,700 may seem like a lot of people, it is just over one quarter of the total number of homeless individuals identified last year in Boston. Later this month, the city will host its annual homeless census aimed at better quantifying the number of homeless individuals, in an effort to better serve their needs.

The Pine Street Inn, one of Boston’s homeless shelters, currently has outreach vans that typically only operate at nighttime on 23-hour shifts to search for people sleeping outside. Such frigid temperatures mean fewer pedestrians are out on the streets, which means there are fewer people outside to notice when a homeless person is in distress. Other shelters have been scrambling to increase their capacity by adding extra beds and serving extra meals. Many have been seeking donations of cold-weather attire such as hats, gloves, coats, and boots to clothe the sudden influx of shelter-seekers. The MBTA has been keeping South Station open overnight as an emergency shelter and is housing up to 125 people each night.

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) has outlined a variety of homeless resources for cold weather events on its website; they include information for a number of shelters around the city, police and EMS services, and a handful of nonprofits that provide services for homeless people. Many of these organizations have already been stretched to their limits by the frigid temperatures over the New Year’s holiday and are anticipating an even greater surge this week. BPHC is encouraging homeless persons in need to take advantage of these services and to contact the mayor’s hotline for any further assistance.


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