James Shearer on Wide Angle with Peter Bermudes

Co-founder of Spare Change News James Shearer recently appeared on Arlington Public News’s “Wide Angle with Peter Bermudes” to discuss the issue of homelessness. The interview spans two episodes, both of which can be found on YouTube.

Bermudes and Shearer discussed a wide range of topics, but here are some standout quotes from Shearer.

On the description of homelessness:

“Homelessness is houselessness, you don’t have a place of your own. It’s as simple as that. People are not only in streets or in shelters. A demographic that never really gets counted is hidden homelessness—people who are couch surfing. They’re college students, they’re young people.”

On the media’s portrayal of homelessness:

“Everything the media does as far as homelessness is concerned is just patronizing, trivial. I like to say they either pity us—and that’s where every holiday you see the soup kitchen—and then they demonize us if there’s an incident. I remember a few years ago, there was an incident in the Boston Common—a homeless man stabbed two park rangers. ‘Homeless people dangerous’—they put that label on him. And the question you probably should have asked is: what is someone who has those kinds of issues even doing roaming around the park? Is nobody taking care of him?

“It fails to capture the humanness of homelessness… All homeless people, that’s somebody’s mom, dad, uncle, brother or cousin. They don’t capture that. If they did a better job capturing that, maybe a lot of the public perception of homelessness would change.”

On the founding of Spare Change News:

“We started in Boston, on Summer Street, but most of us were from Cambridge because that’s where more homeless shelters were. We all gathered together because we knew each other from the shelter.

“There seemed to be a carrot and horse effect, which hasn’t really changed a whole lot, where you put a carrot in front of horse and say ‘do this step, that step’ and they pull the carrot back. It was like, how many hoops do we need to jump through before we get what we need? All we need is housing… We also wanted to stop all the myths that go on about homeless people… they’re all crazy, they’re all substance abusers, they’re there because they want to be…

“[The idea for SCN] came to us from this guy from Boston Jobs for Peace, Tim Harris, who said, ‘why don’t you make a newspaper?’ Everybody laughs at me because I’m the only founding member that’s still around, and I was the one who adamantly said no! I didn’t think we would have lasted 25 minutes, let alone 25 years. But I went along with it…

“The odds were against us from the beginning. We were homeless, living in shelters… But once we got it started, it started to rise a bit, started to make sense. People said, ‘Wow, we got something here.’ The founders, we got off the street pretty quickly. And not just because of the money, but the self-respect that comes with it.”

On President Trump’s proposed 2018 budgets and its cut to homelessness and housing services:

“People are gonna die if this goes through… Just the fact that they’re cutting block grants—there’s a litany of programs under those. We have already seen the effects of those. Transitional housing, which had been big. It was one of the things that, when you’re homeless for a long time, it gives you a chance for a couple of years to get your life together before you venture out into society again. Those are getting cut in Boston—everyone is blaming the city, but it’s not the their fault, it’s the way the Department of Housing and Urban Development is going…

“It’s gonna get bad.”

All episodes of “Wide Angle” are available through Arlington Community Media, Inc.’s YouTube channel.