From a distance, I’ve been watching the city of Cambridge dealing with the homeless community. It seems that the city council has been thinking of new ways to deal with an issue that has become a lot more difficult, especially with the opioid crisis, which has become more than just a minor annoyance.
The area they are really focusing on is Central Square, which, by all accounts, has an abundant homeless population. It’s a somewhat valid approach, with two shelters and many homeless services in the area. Some of the ideas the council has come up with on how to handle the situation are not bad. Hiring homeless people to keep the square clean is great, as long as you’re paying them a decent wage that will eventually allow them to dig themselves out of homelessness. There is also a call for more and better services to confront substance abuse, which is a great idea. I know it sounds like more of the same, but considering some of the hair-brained ideas I hear from other places, Cambridge’s approach sounds almost refreshing.
Still, there are other people in Cambridge who, in regards to homelessness, sound similar to those across the river in Boston; the “run ‘em outta town” crowd, as a colleague of mine refers to them. These are the folks who would soon enough ride the homeless out on a rail or even a ship!
Truth be told, some of that has been attempted already. Many of the old venues where the homeless community used to gather, such as HiFi Pizza, Burger King and Wendy’s, are gone. They’ve since been replaced by more upscale fare. McDonald’s was where many of the Spare Change News cofounders, including yours truly, sat and drank coffee to keep warm and share ideas about this “newspaper thing” we wanted to create. Now McDonald’s has security guards to keep the homeless out!
The Multi-Service Center, which provides services to the homeless, has been moved to the former police headquarters, which is difficult for the homeless to access. The Circle between Prospect Street and Western Avenue, where the homeless like to hangout, is frequented by police. However, some folks in the community are not satisfied with all that. They now want a police station for the area, as if the homeless are somehow responsible for all the recent crimes in the square. Newsflash people: the recent stabbing of a man in front of the local Seven Eleven store across from the Cambridge City Hall had nothing to do with the homeless. As far as the shooting at the Caribbean Festival in August near MIT is concerned, I seriously doubt that homeless people are hiding assault weapons under their cots at the local shelters. Someone would definitely notice them!
The bottom line is that homeless people are not responsible for every single thing that goes wrong in that square. It goes much deeper than that. The “run ‘em outta town” gang needs to get a clue!