Watertown’s Unseen Homeless Problem is Growing

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{This is the first in a series of articles on homeless and needy in Watertown}

They may not be as obvious as the homeless in Boston or Harvard Square, but Watertown has its share of homeless people and families, and the problem has grown.

Recent bad economic times followed by an upswing in the price of rentals in town has spelled trouble for some in town, said Danielle DeMoss, Watertown’s Social Services Resource Specialist.

“This month alone three families are facing evictions, and another is currently homeless,” DeMoss said.

Mark Harris, pastor of First Parish Church in Watertown, said he has seen the problem growing.

“I had not seen homeless people until a couple years ago,” Harris said. “You seen people around the Square who are clearly homeless.”

People become homeless when they cannot keep up with rent and are evicted or have their home foreclosed when they cannot afford mortgage.

Rental prices have increased recently, and have gone above what some people can afford. DeMoss often sees two-bedroom units for close to $2,000. Newer luxury complexes can be over $2,000.

“When I have looked around for rentals, there may be one for under $1,400,” DeMoss said.

Other times a longtime rental home is sold to be redeveloped or the landlord wants to move in family, so the family must try to find a new place to live, said Nancy Dutton, administrator of the the Robinson Foundation, which provides emergency funds for people in need. Another commons situation is when two-family homes are turned into two-unit condominiums.

“People who have lived in Watertown their whole lives find they can’t afford to live here,” Dutton said. “Some are older and disabled, and they don’t know any other community.”

DeMoss can help people navigate the complicated state Department of Transitional Assistance process. For instance, Dutton and DeMoss recently helped someone get a post office box sot they could sign up for state assistance.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Harris said. “You need a mailing address to have documents mailed to you, but often people don’t have a home.”

Watertown has no homeless shelter, and affordable and emergency housing is very difficult to come by. The wait list for affordable housing is about four years, Harris said.

Finding a place in nearby shelters, in Waltham, Cambridge and Boston, can be frustrating and time consuming.

“It is a full time job just to find a bed in a shelter,” DeMoss said.

Adults have to make calls every day to multiple places, and then they have to be there and wait if there is a bed available. Men and women cannot stay in the same shelter, so many times couples choose to try to survive on their own.

“One woman has been living in her car most of the year with her husband,” DeMoss said.

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