Latest count shows jump in local homelessness

Feb 20, 2024

On a single night in January, local agencies across the country conduct a broad count of individuals experiencing homelessness that day. 

Last year, Dartmouth participated in the count for the first time, counting a total of seven people without a suitable roof over their head. This year, the number more than tripled to 25 people, about half of which are women. 

“I don't think people really realize how many homeless people that we have here in Dartmouth, not just the people living in hotels, but actually living in encampments out in the woods,” said Dartmouth Youth Advocate Deloris Joseph. 

The point in time count does not include residents that are in temporary housing situations, such as renting a motel, couchsurfing with friends and family or in the process of being evicted. 

If the count included everyone experiencing housing instability of any kind, the number would “probably be around 90,” said Matt Dansereau, the town’s engagement coordinator. 

The increase in homeless residents is partially a reflection of the town’s improved ability to find and count residents, Dansereau said. Still, he believes it’s mostly due to the statewide housing crisis and Dartmouth’s relative safety compared to neighboring communities. 

Homelessness in Dartmouth is not a new problem: “There are people who have been in the Dartmouth woods for five, six years,” Dansereau said. 

“The need has always been here,” Joseph said. 

But the town’s interest in addressing the problem, and its efforts to do so, are relatively new.  

Dansereau and Joseph are key pieces of the town’s Community Services Outreach team, a task force created in December 2022 that stretches across most town departments. The team works to help local families and individuals in need. 

Dartmouth’s 2024 “point-in-time” count required about 25 people, including many from nearby community groups. Across two shifts, the team surveyed Dartmouth for homeless encampments. 

“Dartmouth is almost 100 square miles — There's a lot of places to look,” Dansereau said. 

Many of Dartmouth’s homeless residents live in the woods off of Route 6, near the string of hotels there, which also house a number of people experiencing housing instability. While the hotels aren’t cheap, they are immediate and reliable. 

“So some people might do the hotel for a few weeks, a few weeks in the woods, a few weeks in the hotels,” Dansereau said. 

Affordable housing lists are long, even with the right verifications. Dansereau said he’s only seen about two people in Dartmouth get set up with housing opportunities in the past two years. 

Dansereau tries to see residents he knows at least once a month. He may bring them basic food items, hygiene products and clothing, and then help connect them to the right “continuum of care,” local or regional groups that coordinate housing and services for residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability. 

He can also help get residents onto MassHealth insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

The larger outreach team tries to meet at least once a month, Joseph said, to receive updates on the families and individuals in town.

“We have that community touch,” Joseph said. “We’re connecting with them, on a one-on-one basis.”

Public Health Nurse Maura Reimer will go out and check in on their medical needs occasionally, especially when the residents are faced with below-freezing temperatures in the winter. 

“So I think we're making a difference,” Joseph said. “I mean, it's a little bit at a time, but it's better than it was a few years ago, because before there was nothing.”

Joseph said she invites anyone in town government, or even a state representative, to come out with the outreach team to visit encampments and meet the residents for themselves. 

“Not to judge anyone, but just to just to see, … these are human beings that are out here,” Joseph said. “This is real.”

Joseph said some community members still don’t think that Dartmouth is home to unhoused residents. 

“Some of the families that are homeless in Dartmouth are families that live in Dartmouth and have lived in Dartmouth,” Joseph said. “The face of homelessness is not the face of homelessness 25 years ago.”

Danserau said residents can donate in-need items, such as hygiene products, menstrual products, hand warmers, underwear and socks directly to his office at the Council on Aging. 

People experiencing homelessness or housing instability can reach out to him directly to get in contact with service providers and onto assistance programs. 

“They’re here,” Joseph said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re from Brockton or they’re from New Bedford, if they’re from Fall River, I don’t really care — if they are right now here in Dartmouth and they need help, we’re going to help them.”