“Imagine your son or daughter between the ages of 18-24 on the streets homeless, scared and alone. Imagine yourself in the shoes of a homeless person, where would you go to stay warm? A coffee shop, to blend in, a doorway of a department store or an alleyway?” Boston’s Homelessness Czar, Jim Greene, raised these chilling questions. The occasion was Boston’s national recognized annual homeless census. On Wednesday night, over 300 hundred volunteers from around the city gathered in City Hall in preparation of spreading throughout Boston proper to count those living on the street and offer them services.
Before the assembled made their sojourn into the fridge night air, Barbara Ferrer, Commissioner for the Boston Public Health Commission shared that Boston was launching the nation’s first count that focused on homeless youth. “The count does matter. Together we can figure out solutions to end homelessness. It is important for our youth to have direction, health services and safe adequate shelter.” Ferrer, a veteran community organizer, insisted that innovative approaches to homeless must be perused. “We need a different approach to helping run-aways, homeless youth and elderly. The youth are not being discounted; we want them to know they do count.” In addition to counting homeless individuals, Ferrer hoped that the homeless census would raise awareness about the growing youth population. “People need to know that there is an existing issue of homelessness amongst our youth.”
Mayor Thomas Menino was noticeably absent from the census this year for health reasons. Ferrer and representatives from the Obama Administration celebrated the Menino’s leadership in homelessness eradication. Greene, whose official title is Director, City of Boston Emergency Shelter Commission, led a small group of dignitaries through the streets of downtown Boston. Noted Cardiologist and President of the Boston Public Health Commission Paula A. Johnson, M. Lee Pelton, new President of Emerson College, and Harold J. Cox, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice at Boston University’s School of Public Health, all donned casual attire and tennis shoes as they took their lead and direction from Greene.
Just a few minutes from the seat of municipal power, the group came upon two homeless women huddled under blanks as they sat on the cold red brick sidewalk. Greene, always the first to go up to the folks on the street, knelled down and asked what they needed. He offered shelter but they only took sandwiches and blankets. The Boston Public Health Commission had vans on stand by to deliver food and transport individuals to shelter if need be. Pine Street Inn also provided mobile services for the census including medical staff.
As the census team moved through the streets of downtown they came across a couple laying on a card board box, covered with a thin comforter right in front where the old Filenes Basement building use to reside. The gentleman could be over heard talking about not being from the area as his voice faded into the night, Jim Green and one of the team supports knelt down next to the homeless couple and asked how they could help. It was really an emotional and totally unforgivable sight to witness, which bring tears to ones eyes. Unbelievable, but it’s a fact that homelessness is real. “Are we on TV?” the young homeless man asked. He goes onto say that if there were more portable bathrooms that would be helpful. He did however say that Macys allows them to access their bathrooms during the daytime. The team acknowledged that one of them was feeling cautious and needed medical attention and therefore radioed in for assistance to a doctor and one of Pine Street Inns transportation vans to transport them to a shelter, if desired. Greene noted that it is unclear at times of distress if people will actually take the help offered.
As the team passed through the streets of downtown, at the corner of a fruit stand and Macys you could hear the Christmas song – “Do you hear what I hear?” – the verse, “Do you see what I see” – cold stone streets. And a bright decorative Christmas lights hung on buildings and trees masking the homeless.