VOICES FROM THE STREET: A plan, a census and a fall guy

A couple of weeks ago, the 35th annual Boston homeless census was released.

Those of you who know me know how I feel about the census. I have never hidden the fact that I believe it to be inaccurate in every way. And while I hoped that every effort would be made to get this one right after what happened at Long Island, again it came up short.

First, let me give credit where it is due. They did recognize that family homelessness has increased. But the city—and the state, for that matter—act as if family homelessness is a new thing, like a fad or something.

Newsflash. It’s always been a problem. It’s just that now it’s become too big to ignore. As always, the city likes to pound its chest when the census numbers declare that there has been a decrease in single adult homelessness when actually nothing can be further from the truth.

First of all, the volunteers who take the count don’t go into places like alleys or on rooftops etc. My understanding is that they are not allowed to. So they count only what they can see. Maybe the ladies from C.O.P.E. should take the next census. I’d like to see the city tell them they can’t go in an alley.

Also, it’s a known fact that many homeless people go across the bridge when they know the census is being taken. They don’t want to be counted. Why? They don’t believe it will make a difference.

Youth homelessness has increased. But as I said about family homelessness, it’s not a new thing, there are just more of them. And don’t even get me started about the hidden homeless: trust me folks, the census is not accurate. I almost spilled coffee on my brand new laptop while reading Mayor Walsh’s action plan to end homelessness in Boston.

It’s modeling itself after Houston’s housing first model. Without getting heavily into the details, here’s the deal: You give someone who is in a shelter, say, $6,000 and they go find housing, then they get the services they need to maintain said housing. I’ll give you one simple reason why that is folly: What happens when the money runs out and this person has no income? I’m not talking disability or any other monetary subsidy. That won’t cut it. When these folks get the six grand, they are going to be paying market rent. No one knows if the mayor’s plan is prepared for that. Boston rents are far higher than Houston’s.

With no back-up plan or supportive services, this person will be right back on the streets in say … six months. The only people who are benefiting from this plan are—drum roll please—those who work in the shelter system. Finally, at a hearing last week with some Boston City Council members attended by the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, Boston Warm and other groups and city representatives, one of the city councilors posed a question to the city about who made the decision to close Long Island shelter after four hours notice back on October 8.

Interim Head of the Boston Public Health Commission, Dr. Huy Nguyen, promptly fell on his sword and took full responsibility for the decision. His bunk mates didn’t have much to say. The mayor finally got his fall guy. Dr. Nguyen apologized for “his mistake” but if the mayor think he’s off the hook, he’s sadly mistaken. At some point, he and his Olympic cronies will have to answer for what happened on that island.

James Shearer

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

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