Editor's Note October 22 Issue

I and the rest of the Spare Change editorial staff have intentionally avoided mention of the subject in the pages of recent issues. My thoughts were that there are moments for the raising of awareness and moments when things are better left unsaid. The moment in question, I had thought, belonged to the latter.
    I have shied from discussion of the tent city that has recently gained publicity in Harvard Square precisely because I—along with some of the encampment’s residents—recognize that publicity could harm people who have already been rendered vulnerable by myriad circumstances. Now, however, since the story has seeped onto the pages of the Boston Globe and leaked onto youtube, I feel obliged to comment.
    As a journalist I have deep reverence for the power of media to function in a capacity for advocacy, especially for silenced or underserved peoples. I agree with the notion that it is important that the public be aware of social issues that might otherwise go unnoticed by a mainstream that is more frequently connected to the couch than the street. In so many ways, knowledge acts as a vehicle for change and the open dissemination thereof is one fundament of a democratic and just society.
    Yet in the case of the Harvard Sq. tent city, I chose to remain silent, deliberately not directing reporters and photographers to the site, although I was well aware of the encampment’s existence. I held my tongue primarily because I am acquainted with some of the tent city’s regular residents, and I am familiar with their wishes to remain under the radar. I kept quiet out of respect for their situations, out of respect for their simple desire not to be exploited.
    In contrast to the presentation of the local tent city rendered by the Globe, not all of the residents share Mr. Kenneth O’Brien’s defiant contempt for Cambridge authorities. I strongly admire Kenny’s iron will and unrelenting capacity to fight for his rights. Yet I also understand that not everyone would say, “If they come to move me, I’ll tell them, ‘Arrest me’.” Some individuals who encounter situations of homelessness are simply trying to get back on their feet as quietly and as quickly as possible. Not everyone is fortified by the same 35 years that Kenny has spent on the street. 
    The Boston Globe tent city story is informative and I commend Ms. Irons, its author, for discussing the drastic increase in the number of homeless individuals in Cambridge between 2008 and this year (33%!). Yet its portrayal of the tent city is somewhat misrepresentative. For instance, Irons writes “Others, including those weary of shelters, have been pitching tents in the woods, behind buildings, and in public parks in a struggle for autonomy.” While this vaguely romantic (and distinctly American) image of the ‘self-deterministic’ individual turning his back on the system and going rogue is scintillating, it is not necessarily reflective of the reality lived by many people on the street. Not everyone is weary of shelters—in fact, at least some of the Harvard Sq. tent city’s residents are there simply because area shelters are currently full. Pitching a tent is the only discernable means by which to weather the time spent on waiting lists for a bed.
    As for the ‘struggle for autonomy,’ I find it quite surprising that Ms. Irons chose not to speak with nor even mention Spare Change in her article, considering that we are one of the few organizations in the Metro area truly committed to supporting homeless men and women’s needs for autonomy over dependency. Here, we don’t give handouts—instead, we offer the opportunity for people to independently earn and work their ways out of poverty through self-employment. If the Globe were truly interested in how area homeless are working outside of the system to improve their lives, it would have spoken with at least one vendor.
    Likewise, if the Globe were truly committed to the interests of the homeless instead of those of its readers, it would have thought twice about potentially jeopardizing the situations of the men and women currently calling Cambridge Common and Flagstaff Park home. If Harvard Square’s tent cities are shut down, local newspapers will have the opportunity to enact righteous journalism through advocacy. I hope that the Boston Globe would join us here at Spare Change in the fight.

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