Charlestown is a small city with a two square mile radius just outside of Boston. The brick sidewalks are known for their historical significance, but what many people don’t commemorate are the several homeless men and women who call Charlestown’s streets home.
On the June 13th, after watching the annual Charlestown Bunker Hill Day Parade, I took a walk down Charlestown’s Main Street and lo and behold, sitting right in the Bunker Hill Mall was sitting a homeless gentleman named Francis Butler, who has become a regular fixture to the mall over the past seven years.
I sat down with Mr. Butler and asked him about how he became homeless. He told me that after his wife passed away, he turned to the bottle and before he knew it he became homeless.
Butler is a disabled veteran who served his country for about six months in Germany, and also completed a tour and a half in Vietnam. He collects a Disabled American Veteran’s check monthly for $235.00. But on the streets, $235.00 doesn’t go all that far.
Butler explained that he has applied for housing throughout Boston and the surrounding area to no avail. He stated to me that he has been told on many occasions, “with such a low income every month, there is just no place with rent low enough to afford.” Although he does have a daughter who lives locally, Butler doesn’t want to impose on her and her family, especially not knowing for how long he would need her help.
Mr. Butler has used the assistance of the Pine Street Inn on occasion, especially for things like meals and showers, but stated that he does not like staying at the shelter out of fear of altercations with other guests there. He further told me that Pine Street is aware of the fact that he stays at the Charlestown Bunker Hill Mall and sleeps on a bench there, but they only seem to come to Charlestown every once in a while to offer him a bagged meal or a blanket if the weather is extremely cold.
I noticed that Frank had no belongings within the area, not even a backpack like the ones that most homeless men and women have to carry their possessions. He explained that Charlestown was conducting their annual sidewalk sale and parade for the past couple days. During this time, his cart was taken and disposed of, along with everything that he owned—including his reading glasses and cane—because it was considered unsightly to the public.
Butler seemed surprised to learn from a trusted source that the Boston Police allegedly disposed of his belongings. After all, for the past seven years, he has never had such a thing happen to him. He told me that the Boston Police are usually sympathetic to him, and on occasion officers have brought him to the shelter to get him out of the cold and rain.
Mr. Butler grew up and lived in Charlestown all his life. He finds that the mall is a safe and friendly place to stay. “Nobody bothers me here. The security and residents of the area all know that I am here and look out for me. Many of them buy me a cup of coffee and offer me a bite to eat when I am hungry.”
I told Butler of a letter to the editor sent to Spare Change News that regarded people thinking that there is not a homeless problem in Charlestown, and asked him what he thought of the idea. Butler told me that there are quite a few people homeless in Charlestown. “Many of them are just not seen too often because people are blind to the situation. They just pass by without even so much as a hello. Many of the homeless in the area try to find places to stay that are out of the elements, such as doorways, but there are a few that sleep in the graveyard or in dumpsters.”
America was founded on the concept of caring for our fellow man, and its foundation occurred in places like Charlestown. Given this history, can we really keep turning a blind eye to what’s happening right on our doorsteps?