As I write this, I’ve just returned from a rally at Boston’s City Hall with my compadres from the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee. For those of you who don’t know, the committee was formed in October by a group of homeless and formerly homeless activists in response to the closing of Long Island Shelter in October.
The rally was being held to mark the sixth-month anniversary of the abrupt and ill-timed closing of the shelter. Yes, boys and girls, it’s been six months since that Family Guy boneheaded-type move and the response from the city has been … well, lacking. When the you-know-what hit the fan from homeless activists and the general public at large, thing started out well. At least, the mayor’s administration fell all over itself with excuses as to why the closure happened the way it did and why there wasn’t a well-thought-out plan as to how to house the nearly 700 hundred people who were displaced from the shelter and the island’s many recovery and detox programs.
Then, of course, came the “we’re going to fix this, we’re working on it, blah, blah, blah.” Meanwhile, the mayor wanted the media and millions of Boston’s registered voters to know how badly he felt and the situation would be handled. At first glance, it seemed things would indeed get handled … somewhat. The South End Fitness center was set up as a temporary shelter while a more permanent solution was sought, but the space was inadequate and the conditions were less than appealing. There was really no place for women, who were forced to sleep in makeshift spaces in shelter hallways. Others, who couldn’t or wouldn’t take those poor options—and honestly, who could blame them?—had to fend for themselves, and that was all before Boston endured the worst winter it had ever seen.
Oh, and as for the recovery beds that were lost—well, in a meeting, members of the BHSC were told, “we’re working on it.” Six months later, there has been little progress and the new shelter on Southampton Street, which the mayor strolled around with the press like it was a state-of-the-art facility a couple of months ago, still isn’t ready, Yes, it has 100 beds that are full at the moment, but the 400 beds that were to be ready in April are not. Meanwhile, homeless men continue to live in deplorable conditions at the fitness center, a place that, quite frankly, isn’t fit for an animal. The women who sleep in makeshift hallways are about to be evicted from them and it’s still cold out.
And the recovery beds? They have yet to be replaced. Meanwhile, people who needed those beds have relapsed and died. And the city’s response? Once again, today, at the rally, we heard a lot of good things, a lot of, “we really care.” But when you bury four friends in four months, those responses fall on deaf ears. And the mayor? Well, he’s still talking about the Olympics, while the homeless go uncared for. So we rally, we protest, and in a few days we march. We’re not going anywhere until this travesty is dealt with. And maybe not even then. Not until the homeless get housing, dignity and respect.