VOICES FROM THE STREET: Homeless Winter Blues

As I write this Massachusetts has had to endure another snowstorm. It’s the third in three weeks and, once again, there was a mad scramble by the homeless to find shelter anywhere that was safe and that may not necessarily be a shelter.

Some people try to take refuge in an MBTA subway station or inside an ATM. More often than not they get kicked out of these places by security guards or the police who are torn between compassion or doing their jobs. And sometimes people just sleep in the streets, hopefully away from prying eyes. Some choose to curl up in doorways.

Along with all this snow comes the bitter cold afterward: painful, biting, searing cold that cuts through you no matter how many layers you have on. Those who deny climate change do so out of pure ignorance. Nearly every Saturday when I take the Brattle Street elevator to catch the train I almost always pass folks wrapped up in blankets lying on the cold floor. They always flip the sign that says the elevator is out of order, no doubt so nobody will try to harm them.

One couple, I know well. I usually offer them some change and keep reminding them of who I am and that they should stop by Spare Change News to sign up as vendors. They always say they will but never do. Oh yes, the cold. I was telling someone recently that I never remembered it ever being this cold when I was homeless. Then again, I was in a drug-induced coma much of the time. I still remember that first winter homeless in Boston, the nights waking up cold and alone in an alley, sleeping on the floor of the Pine Street Inn on Christmas Eve, good times.

There seemed to be more compassion in those days, restaurants would let us hang out on really cold days and would feed us. I remember the local Mickey D’s would give us their leftovers at the end of the night instead of throwing them out. Not healthy I know, but hey.

One of the good things I remember was the fact that every T station was left open at night during winter and summer, you were able to go in and the MBTA police would come and roust you out in the morning. There were no problems, it could be dangerous though—you have idiots that like to pick on the homeless.

The good thing is that you were able to move from station to station until you found a safe place. It may sound like a big adventure, but it’s not. The compassion from those days is seemingly no longer there, the T locks most of its stations and, in places like North and South Stations, the private security details are always pushing the homeless outside.

Many restaurants in Boston and Cambridge have hired private security to keep the homeless and other undesirables away, while those that sleep in ATMs are subject to arrest. Many of you are asking why don’t they check into shelters? All I can say to that is: try staying in one for a few days. If we are to defeat homelessness we must show compassion. Until then, the blues will continue.

James Shearer

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

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