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Boston homeless shelters expanding capacity ahead of Hurricane Sandy

With Massachusetts in a state of emergency in anticipation for Hurricane Sandy, Boston’s homeless shelters are preparing to care for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

City homeless shelters started additional outreach Sunday morning, as well as expanded shelter accommodation capacities, after Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s request in a press release Friday.

According to the Boston Public Health Commission’s 2012 homeless census, there are more than 6,647 homeless men, women and children in the city. One hundred eighty one of them are living on the streets.

As of press time, Hurricane Sandy is a Category 1 hurricane chugging toward the Eastern Seaboard, set to swing westward and make landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening.

The hurricane has also been dubbed a “Frankenstorm,” given its combination as a hurricane, nor’easter and winter storm. Though Sandy is not predicted to directly hit Boston, the city is still forecasted to feel the storm’s effects, including 60+ MPH winds, rain and coastal flooding on Monday and Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

For staff at the St. Francis House, a homeless shelter located at 39 Boylston St., “all hands will be on deck,” said Elizabeth Lund, St. Francis House communications manager.

Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter located at 444 Harrison Ave. in South Boston, stepped up its efforts throughout the day on Sunday with their two outreach vans.

“They’re going out and building relationships, encouraging people to come seek shelter,” said Jennifer Harris, communications manager at the Pine Street Inn.

“We will also be open all day,” Harris said.

The shelter is not normally open during daytime hours, she said.

“There will be plenty of overflow room,” she said. “We are just really making sure people are safe and inside.”

Beyond the shelter’s normal accommodations, Harris said, the building’s lobby could be converted into temporary overflow sleep space with cots, along with continuing to serve two meals a day.

In preparation, Harris said the shelter was also stocking food and making sure extra supplies were on hand.

“The services we provide definitely increase when we’re open for the day,” Harris said. “Our goal is always to help these men and women. They’re the most vulnerable people in the city. We can definitely meet their needs.”

The Boston Public Health Commission/Emergency Shelter Commission did not return repeated phone calls as of press time Sunday.

At the St. Francis House, Lund said she was unsure how many people would seek shelter during the storm, but was nonetheless prepared.

“We typically serve 800 men and women a day, but we don’t know how many people will come to us for help tomorrow [Monday],” Lund said in an email. “Some of the night shelters may stay open during the day because of the storm.”

Area homeless shelters are not the only organizations beefing up support staff in anticipation of Sandy.

Local power companies are bringing in utility crews and equipment from as far away as New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma to prepare for restoring power across the Eastern Seaboard, according to an email from Keith Voight, manager of publicity and promotion at the Edison Electronic Institute.

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