A few days ago, I stood in protest in front of Symphony Hall in Boston with members of the Homeless Solidarity Committee, the United School Bus Union Workers and Black Lives Matter supporters while Boston Mayor Marty Walsh prepared for his first state of the city address.
Unfortunately, these bones can no longer withstand the cold temperatures of New England so I left early. With technology being what it is today, I was able to follow the speech on my phone during my somewhat long commute back to the North Shore. The speech, which wasn’t very long, sounded good. The mayor hit all the right points, and the crowd clapped enthusiastically. But forgive me if I’m somewhat skeptical. I know, I know. I should give Marty a break. He’s only one year in. And I will somewhat on education—and that cool new app he introduced for paying parking tickets, though I don’t own a car.
But on homelessness, not a chance.
The mayor talked about the closing of the Long Island bridge back in October, which displaced the 700 people staying at the shelter and the recovery programs located on the island. He spoke about how the decision to close the bridge and evacuate the shelter hit him hard and that the city’s most vulnerable people are important to him. I don’t doubt that his heart is in the right place, but two questions come to mind:
- If the most vulnerable people are that important to you, Mr. Mayor, why wasn’t there a plan in place for the aftermath of the evacuation? Why wasn’t there a way to move people off the island with the care, dignity and respect they deserve instead of the Paul Revere-style evacuation that occurred on October 8? You and your team had months to put one in place. But no, someone fell asleep at the wheel and most of the displaced ended up having to sleep at the disease-ridden South Bay Fitness Center—women in the lobby and the rest, who knows where? Many people will tell me to cut you some slack. After all, a new shelter just opened up on Southampton Street. But there are only 100 beds to start with, and the rest will only be available when most of the harsh winter months have passed. People have already died, Mr. Mayor. Those extra beds were needed yesterday. And I hear that there is still no permanent place for the recovery programs that also had to close. Funny, but last I heard, your administration was working on it.
- My other question is pretty simple. If this is, as you say, personal, and you really care about those less fortunate, why are you trying to bring the 2024 Olympics to Boston? You call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the city. What about the homeless? What about those living in less-than-wonderful conditions? What about those of us who don’t want them here? Don’t those voices count? You’re setting up community meetings? Why? You’ve already done the deed. You talk about how this won’t fall on the taxpayers. Are you kidding? It’s all gonna fall on the taxpayers. You talk about how the poor and homeless won’t be pushed out—the pols in Atlanta said that too. You talk about transparency, so why not make the Olympic bid public? And how can you talk about the Olympics being good for the economy while, at the same time, suing to keep the casino from being built in Everett, which is also good for the economy? Sounds like an episode of Family Guy.
There’s something else, too. You claim this is personal for you and, yet, there’s been no apology. Certainly not a heartfelt one from you or anyone else in your administration for what happened on Long Island. As I said, Mr. Mayor, people who were on that island have died, many who were in recovery programs and who had families and people who loved them. At least have the decency to say, “Sorry.” Or does an Olympic torch coming through Downtown Crossing mean more to you?