See What I See

The morning after the night I spent on the streets, I found myself walking into Downtown Crossing in Boston. It was about 5 a.m. I grabbed a cup of coffee at the 7-Eleven and started walking toward the train station. I was walking by Millennium Tower and I suddenly wished I had a camera. I didn’t, so I can only describe the scene in words.

As I was passing this massive 60-story tower, I noticed, in the tower’s shadow, homeless people, many of them couples, sleeping in doorways. Due to the situation I was in at that time, the irony was lost on me. But it came to mind as I—with members of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee (BHSC), the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants and the Save our Section 8 Policy Committee—met with the mayor of Boston a couple of weeks ago.

No, I didn’t get to express what I saw to him, and it may have not made much of a difference. But what if he saw it as I did at 5 a.m.? Would it have changed his mind? Would it have touched the heart of John Fish? You all remember him, don’t you? One of the main cogs in the wheel of the failed Boston Olympics bid, Mr. Fish is also one of the main men behind Millennium Tower. Would his heart have softened? And would he have made sure that a few floors of his tower went to low-income housing so the people in the doorways across the street had a warm place to sleep?

Would Gov. Baker not take a knife to homeless programs and services if he saw what I saw? Well, the easy answer to all of that folks is “no.” Because they don’t see it and I really don’t know if they care. Other things seem more important. Take, for instance, the Boston City Budget. After the mayor told us there wasn’t any money to fund a voucher program that would help house hundreds of homeless people, he somehow managed to find $15 million in emergency monies to repair a bridge as part of a $100 million incentive package to bring General Electric to Boston.

Oh, by the way, the proposed cost of the city-funded voucher program? $5 million! I doubt the Gov would bat an eye, not with the state being all in with General Electric coming to Boston. As for Fish? This was a man who was willing to displace millions of people for an Olympic dream. I doubt he would be willing to open up the Millenium Tower to poor people.

I guess some would say that Boston is lucky when it comes to homelessness. Take Los Angeles. People there are sleeping in tents on the streets. Skid Row is so bad the smell is gut wrenching. Or San Francisco, where members of the media are getting together to address the issue. Why can’t Boston’s media do that? Oh, that’s right: there’s no homelessness in the suburbs. Someone said to me recently that the things that are happening in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco couldn’t happen in Boston.

Really? See what I see.

James Shearer

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

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