VOICES FROM THE STREET: Well, Charlie?

In my zeal to crucify the Mayor Marty Walsh administration for what happened with Long Island shelter and its aftermath, it was brought to my attention and also to the attention of other activists that, while we were busy roasting the mayor, the state had emerged unscathed from our criticism. Well, for my part, let me correct that mistake. Yes, since they took office in January, little has been said by the new governor and his administration about what went down at Long Island.

For that matter, the outgoing administration didn’t say much either, unless I missed something, but I doubt it. While on the campaign trail, Charlie Baker said all the right things concerning homelessness. After his election, when it came to picking people for his administration, it seemed as if he was sincere about addressing homelessness, especially the shelter system, by tapping Monica Bharel, formerly the chief medical officer at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, to head up the State Department of Public Health.

But now, a tad over 100 days in office, and little has been said about homelessness or the Long Island situation. Check that—there has been talk of family homelessness. Not that family homelessness isn’t important; it just seems more trendy or, as a friend of mine likes to point out, it makes homelessness sound more sexy like… climate change. Single adult homelessness or chronic homelessness never seems to warrant the same kind of attention.

Some would argue that addressing the opioid crisis brings some attention to it and, yes, it does, but the only reason the opioid crisis is being discussed at all on the state level is because kids in the ‘burbs are overdosing.

When it was just homeless individuals dying of overdoses in doorways or on park benches, the only people acting with a sense of urgency were homeless advocates. Even as we speak the governor’s 2016 budget calls for a $2.1 million cut in programs for homeless individuals. Now I and some of my colleagues were recently criticized for saying that some public officials don’t care about the homeless. So, I’m not going to say that anyone in the Baker administration doesn’t care, but there needs to be a sense of urgency to end this crisis.

And believe me, it is, indeed, a crisis. One that the city of Boston can’t fix on its own. There needs to be a solution to all of this.

Why can’t the state take the lead and reopen the recovery programs on the Island? I’m sure there’s money for a ferry service. Why can’t the state’s Department of Public Health step in and make sure that all shelters, whether temporary or permanent, are up to code? Why can’t the state make sure that other shelters and programs around the state are properly funded and running and adequately serving the needs of homeless people in their areas instead of sending them to Boston’s already overcrowded shelter systems?

As for whether activists like me have been letting the state off the hook… Wrong. Letters have been sent and requests for meetings have been made, but to no avail. Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong people. To that end I say: Well, Charlie?

James Shearer

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

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