Winter in Boston

I’m tired of winter in Boston this year because it seems like it’s a totally different season from the ones we endured when I was a child growing up in Avon, Massachusetts.

Back when I was a kid, winter was fun, but now it’s lost it’s flavor. It’s no longer fun to build snowmen, snow forts and castles. It’s no fun to have a snowball fight with your friends, neighbors or even your own kids. It’s no fun because winter is a brutal season to live through if you’re a child or an adult who’s homeless.

When I was a kid, Boston was fun because, when a blizzard occurred, we’d go outside to see our friends next door or one street over and have fun with snowball fights. School was cancelled and our parents were home to enjoy time with us. It was like we were having a mini vacation. I remember times my mom would make Swiss Miss hot cocoa with marshmallows when we’d come in from the cold. Sometimes we’d have Campbell’s soup for dinner to warm us up.

Now children and parents can’t do that. I’ll tell you why. It’s because children and their parents don’t get enough food stamps to be able to eat every day of the year. Parents can’t get the jobs they want and need so they can make ends meet. Parents are separated from their children by Children’s Services and become homeless as a result. People with or without a permanent place to live have to follow the shelters’ ridiculous rules in order to keep themselves and their families safe. Also, people who stay in the homeless shelters can’t always get beds when it’s necessary.

Take a look at the women and men who live at Pine Street Inn. This Sunday, when the temperature hits -3 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, the shelter will keep everybody who’s there from the night before inside and will stay open to help people get warm and provide a nice meal. Later in the evening, however, not everybody will be able to go to sleep in a nice warm comfortable bed, cot or mat. Some people will have to find another place to sleep.

People will be told, “You have to leave because we have no beds available for you tonight.” Or, “You’ll have to go to Woods-Mullen” (women only), or, “You’ll have to go to the Northampton Street Shelter” (men only). Otherwise, it’ll be, “You can’t stay here.” I’ve heard this last phrase too many times over the last 24 years I’ve been homeless, housed, homeless, housed and homeless again.

I’m not naïve or stupid, but I truly wish that everybody had a safe place to stay on Sunday. However, I don’t see it happening because Boston’s services for homeless people are inadequate.

Think about this for a minute, people. State officials have told Pine Street Inn shelter that they have to end two programs that were helping the ladies of Pine Street Inn. The reason for this is that Massachusetts says that they’re not moving enough people along into safe, secure and permanent housing. The state of Massachusetts has made it so that the Pine Street Women’s Inn doesn’t give out clothes anymore, and they can only keep 17 people in their lobby sleeping on a mat or a cot if there are no beds available for the night at the shelter.

Imagine this scenario: a woman in her 80s walks into the shelter because she has no place to go. She tries to get a bed in the lottery at 6pm and fails. She asks if she can sleep in the lobby. A night-time advocate tells her, “No.” They tell her she has to leave. The woman tries to speak to a person with authority to see if she can stay, but she’s too late, the worker says.

The woman asks why it’s too late, and the worker responds that the supervisor left to drive people to Woods-Mullen 10 minutes ago, and all 17 lobby beds are gone.

The woman has a sandwich and leaves to find somewhere else she can be safe for the night. Unfortunately, the only safe place for her is in God’s arms. She has no money to ride the bus to South Station, so she attempts to walk somewhere in the freezing cold. She falls asleep on a park bench and wakes up in the arms of God.

Our political leaders don’t care about what happened to this woman. They say she was an alcoholic or a drug addict, but they don’t know her story. She was somebody’s mother, lover, friend, grandmother, sister, aunt or wife, and now she’s gone. You think about how this could be your relative and you don’t even know that she’s dead. Does that sound okay to you? It doesn’t to me. I wish you all goodness. Be safe and help somebody less fortunate than yourselves. It might be the only act of human kindness a person will receive all year long.

Beatrice Bell is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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