Clutching an electric candle, Dr. Jennifer Brody was on the edge of tears Thursday as she recounted a call she received hours earlierabout a longtime patient at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
The caller informed Brody that the patient, a man in his 40s who had recently moved out of the large homeless encampment known as Mass. and Cass, was found dead that morning in his apartment. “It takes your breath away,” said Brody, director of HIV Services at the nonprofit. “Even though we are pouring our love and our hearts and our care into our patients … it’s hard to face the fact that so much is not enough.”
Brody was among more than 60 people who braved a biting wind Thursday to participate in a candlelight vigil at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless office at 780 Albany St. to honor those who have died while living on the streets this year. Since 1990,the vigils have been held annually across the state and nation on the longest night of the year. From Boston to Cape Cod, people observe the day by gathering with candles, observing moments of silence, and holding signs with the names of the deceased.
In Massachusetts, the gatherings took on special significance this year amid a surge in the number of people sleeping in emergency shelters and outside in the elements. A report issued last week from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) showed that 19,141 people in Massachusetts experienced homelessness on a single night last January, part of the department’s annual point-in-time count of unsheltered people nationally. That’s a 23 percent increase over the previous year and the fifth-largest increase nationwide. Two-thirds of people experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts were families with children, the highest share in the country, HUD found.