In record numbers, families without shelter are turning to Massachusetts emergency departments

Originally posted on WBUR.

When 5 p.m. strikes on weekdays, and on weekends and holidays, the emergency room — where there’s a roof, food and a team of social workers — provides an alternative to sleeping outdoors or in a car, if the family has one.

“They’re choosing between a bunch of really terrible options,” said Amanda Stewart, a physician in the emergency department at Boston Children’s Hospital. “And so I think that’s how we end up becoming this kind of front door to the shelter system.”

However, Stewart and others warn that emergency departments are not good places for families in need of shelter. Staying there can take a toll on family members’ mental and physical health, and on the medical system.

“We’re really trying to avoid this becoming our new normal,” said Megan Sandel, a physician at Boston Medical Center, who has been working on housing and homelessness for 20 years.