In the 25 plus years I’ve been involved with homelessness, whether it’s been personal experience or as an activist, the one question I always keep coming back to is: “Why can’t we solve it?” There are probably a million reasons why we haven’t, but it’s not happening, and you’d think that with the wealth of knowledge we have in the city of Boston or, for that matter, in Massachusetts, homelessness in the Commonwealth could be curtailed to the extent that it wouldn’t be a major problem.
Massachusetts likes to be ahead of the curve when it comes to intelligence. We have all the best colleges, hospitals, technology and clean energy—blah, blah, blah.
But we can’t seem to solve our little homelessness problem. According to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, there were 21,135 homeless people in the state in 2015. That’s far less than other major cities or states like California or New York, but we still can’t solve the problem here.
I know most will blame it on the skyrocketing rents, especially in Boston, and the overwhelming stench of gentrification, and that’s true. Many will blame the opioid crisis or lack of mental health services among other things. None of these are wrong, but where is our ability to address them?
I honestly believe that part of the answer is joining forces. There is way too much fragmentation when it comes to solving the problem of homelessness, whether it’s single adult, family, youth, LGBTQ, elder or disabled—everyone fights over the same pile of funding, which is never enough.
Most politicians advocate for whatever happens to be trending that week. Activists yell that it’s not enough. And homeless people suffer because of it—not just one group, all of them. We need to change the way we communicate with each other, everybody. Activists and public officials need to talk to each other instead of at each other. Am I saying we shouldn’t protest? No, not at all, but we should try to find common ground and work toward solutions together, change policies, think outside the box and look at what other cities and states are doing.
Look at Los Angeles. It recently passed a 25 cents sales tax, which is expected to raise $355 million every year for the next 10 years. According to a report, this will house 45,000 people for five years and will provide homeless prevention for at least 30,000 people. This was all made possible by homeless activists, shelter providers and public officials working together.
There is so much more we can do if we work together. I know there are critics who will say coming together won’t work. They said the same thing about Spare Change News.