We Can Do Better

“We can do better.” That was part of the opening speech given at the beginning of the 25th Interfaith Homeless Memorial Service that is held annually at the Church on the Hill in Boston. It’s a somber event, as the names of those who have passed away on the street in the previous year are read. But as I choked back tears, I couldn’t help noticing the lack of representatives from the state government; no governor or governor elect attended (despite the fact that the State House is a stone’s throw from the Church), and only a couple of people from City Hall were there (and no, the mayor wasn’t one of them. There was even a lack of shelter providers, which is very unusual, and the excuse that they were busy won’t fly at this address.

There were other advocates there, including members of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, family members, clergy, and friends of those who had passed, but as the names continued being read, I thought of the other things that had occurred that past week. Finally, the Mayor had found a way to replace Long Island shelter….kinda. I say “kinda” because the building that was chosen isn’t ready yet, and won’t be until the middle of January. Even then it will only be able to offer 100 beds, since it won’t be ready for full capacity use until April. Until then, people will have to live in the less-than-suitable conditions at the South Bay Fitness Center or whatever shelter lobby becomes available, and there will be those that will choose to sleep outside. In all likelihood, we’ll hear of more deaths before April as a result.

The recovery beds that were on the Island have also yet to be replaced, yet I was assured at a City Hall meeting, along with other members of the Boston Solidarity Movement, that they were working on it. I hope so, because Boston currently has the largest population of homeless people in the country and, as was mentioned in the service. this was no accident. This is indeed a failure of state and federal policies that simply pushed people down and out.In the opinion of this writer, what happened at Long Island Shelter wasn’t an accident either, It was negligence, plain and simple. The December 14th story in the Boston Globe pretty much told us that, Why am I calling it negligence? Firstly, because I can’t use the stronger word I have for it(this is a family newspaper, after all). Secondly, because the situation wasn’t made a priority.Officialsmight as well have just said the words “it’s only a bunch of homeless people”. If they were as concerned before the disaster as they claim to be now, there would have been a contingency plan months in advance.

Today they want us to believe that the right thing is being done:The mayor has formed a Task Force on Individual Homelessness to come up with a way to deal with the homeless problem in Boston within 90 days. But that Task Force is, of course, loaded with all the “experts” on homelessness and only, oh, two homeless people who are actual consumers of the various shelter services. God forbid you have someone on the Task Force who will offer a little constructive criticism.After all, City Hall is still pursuing its Olympic dream. I was even told earlier this week that I shouldn’t be adversarial. But I’m not I’m angry. Today I sat in a church and watched as attendees wept for people they didn’t even know, Mayor Walsh, you should have been there–you would’ve wept too. We can do better.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.