So the elections have come and gone, and for the first time in eight years here in Mass. a Republican will be in the State House. I voted this past Tuesday, but like thousands who stayed home I wondered if it would make a difference. I mean, really, does it matter who is in the State House? Especially when it comes to homelessness?
Eight years ago, Deval Patrick was elected to the governorship with much fanfare. There was hope here in Mass. Homeless advocates, including yours truly, were excited. It seemed that not only did we have a powerful ally in Boston City Hall, but now in the State House as well. When the Patrick administration talked about ending homelessness in five years, a few of us here on the ground floor privately doubted that. We kept our opinions to ourselves.
Eight years later homelessness is still here. As a matter of fact, it’s gotten worse. According to a recent HUD report, homelessness in the state has increased 40% since 2007, while the rest of the country has experienced a decrease. So what happened to that five year plan? Maybe they should have asked somebody before boldly making that prediction, and when I say somebody I mean the homeless themselves and the people that actually work with them.
I know most of you are probably shocked that that in a state like Massachusetts homelessness has increased. Don’t be. This state likes to think of itself as the bastion of liberalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because you elect Democrats to go to Washington on a regular basis doesn’t make you liberal. Also, all these innovative solutions and being at the forefront of climate change doesn’t buy you a seat at the table.. They’ve forgetten about one important ingredient: people less fortunate.
The HUD report pointed out that one of the main reasons for the increase in homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. DUH. Mass. has some of the highest rents in the country, especially if you want to live in Boston, which caters to the elite. But they will deny it. Also, cities like Cambridge and Somerville, which have been homeless friendly, seem to be going the same way by pushing out people who have lived in their communities for years in favor of building housing and strip malls for college students who they want not only to be here for four years but also stay here. So of course, the homeless are being pushed out as well. Homelessness is not even a topic of conversation among many in this state. People still just walk by and ignore what’s right in front of them.
The media are the bigger culprit in this. Stories about kidnapped dogs are the priority. When we get stories about homelessness from the media it is either to demonize them, or it is one of those feel good soup kitchen stories around the holidays. They do not dig and answer the tough questions, like about the man who assaulted the rangers on Boston Common. The rangers are fine, thank goodness, but the question that no one seemed to ask was: if this gentleman had a history of mental illness and was extremely violent, why was he not receiving the help that he needed? Did he ever? No one asked, so we moved on.
The bridge on Long Island was another story. Today, as I write this, there is still no concrete long term solution as to how the shelter system is going to provide beds for the 700 people who were displaced by this. The cold weather is coming, and the hard questions still have not been asked and the story has more or less gone away. Even this newspaper relegated it to the back pages like so many papers do. And our truest political ally is gone. So did this election really even matter for those who have little or nothing? I doubt if they even had a chance to vote. Worrying about an election when you need to figure out where you’re sleeping that night is …well, you know where priorities lie.