BOSTON — Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke at Boston City Hall on Sunday, saying the city had its first confirmed case of coronavirus in the homeless community, but that the city has been preparing.
“We’ve built one of the strongest support systems in the country for people experiencing homelessness,” the mayor said.
The homeless population in Boston numbers more than 6,000, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Mayor Walsh also announced hundreds of new beds in three new locations that will help those who are homeless, which will greatly ease the burden on local shelters, he added. Suffolk University will be repurposing a dorm to provide at least 172 new beds to help reduce congestion and increase social distancing in existing shelters in Boston.
Also repurposing is a former hospital on Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton. It will have 70 more beds and open within days. Walsh said he expects more locations in the coming days.
People in need of homeless services should not go directly to Suffolk or the hospital site, but rather one of the existing shelters, which will remain open, Walsh said. Those include the Pine Street Inn, Boston Rescue Mission and Rosie’s Place, among others.
In addition to those, former Boston Medical Center building Newton Pavilion, with a capacity of 250 beds, will temporarily reopen.
Walsh said the city has conducted regular deep-cleaning and sanitizing efforts at existing shelters and is also staying in close contact with people who were formerly homeless. Supportive service agencies across Boston have been conducting wellness checks by phone to more than 1,000 clients who have been housed in the past year alone.
“Protecting our city is a long-term effort,” Walsh said.
In other updates, Walsh said that while most people are doing a good job of social distancing to help slow the spread of the virus, he is still seeing people gathered in groups and playing sports in the parks.
“This is not social distancing,” Walsh said. “We are taking new measures to discourage anyone from engaging in activities in our parks that will put themselves or others at risk. And quite honestly, you’re putting others at risk by doing this.”
This includes sports like soccer, street hockey, basketball and tennis. He said they’ve already put temporary zip ties on basketball hoops, are putting new signage up this weekend, and that the “last effort is to lock the park down.”
He said young people might not think they can catch coronavirus, but they can catch it, bring it home and spread it.
Walsh said the city is continuing to serve students, families and the elderly.
There are more than 70 sites across the city that are distributing free meals every weekday. People can call 311 for more information about food distribution or go to Boston.gov/coronavirus.
They’re supporting nonprofit partners that provide food to seniors, saying if seniors are having trouble accessing food, call 311 to be connected to food services or also contact Project Bread or the Greater Boston Food Bank.
“I’m deeply proud of the people of Boston in showing us what our city stands for.”