Voices from the Street: Ignorance

The other night I watched an episode of “Law and Order” about a homeless man who killed another homeless man. I’ve probably seen it 10 to 15 times over the years, but on this night, the sheer ignorance about homelessness made my skin crawl. The episode touched on every stereotype about homeless people and explored the fact that everyone—from the general public to the halls of so-called justice—look down on homeless people.

How else can you explain the fact that someone hit a homeless person with their car and then parked in their garage with the said person still attached to the hood, letting them die? Or the fact that the driver got off with probation and community service? Now that’s ignorance.

Maybe on this particular night it hit a little too close to home for me, because I reached for the remote to turn the channel, wishing I could change it in real life as well: sometimes ignorance plays out there too. For instance, last week the City of Boston, along with the state, unveiled it’s Winter Plan, and while both would like you to think that this plan is new and innovative, it’s just more of the same. When one shelter is filled to capacity, people get shuttled to another, and there is nothing new or original about that.

Also, at Pine Street Inn, passes are handed out that allow men to roll out mats and sleep in the shelter lobby. Except for the passes and the mats, there’s nothing new here either, as I myself spent my first Christmas sleeping on a piece of cardboard in the old Pine Street Inn nearly 37 years ago. There’s little dignity or self-respect in sleeping on a cold and hard floor.

The state’s secretary of health and human services can hardly be blamed for not knowing exactly why the demand for shelter beds has been increasing since late last summer. The truth is, Secretary Sudders, the demand has been there long before, and that is mainly due to the ignorance of the people who were in power before you who failed to end homelessness or even discuss it as a priority. Oh, it’s been talked about at times, but it’s only been lip service.

The other reason for the increase, besides the rise in opioid abuse and those released from prison, is that 15 months ago Boston’s largest shelter out on Long Island was suddenly shut down without a game plan from the city as to where it would put people. The city forfeited not only hundreds of beds for the homeless but recovery programs as well. Many of those recovery beds are yet to be replaced.

The ignorance continues with the city and the state applauding and back slapping each other about getting General Electric to move its corporate headquarters to Boston while they should be hanging their heads in shame about the fact that it’s been named the most unequal big city in America.

The city claims it permitted more affordable housing units last year than any other. Where? What else can you call it but ignorance? How can you sit in your warm offices and drink champagne and celebrate acquisitions of major companies while your most vulnerable population makes the choice between sleeping on a cold concrete floor or freezing to death on the streets?

In that episode of “Law and Order,” the homeless man on trial says he couldn’t understand why or how homelessness happened to him. He didn’t ask for it. That’s also true in reality.

James Shearer

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

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