Former Presidential Candidate Michael Dukakis Spares Time For Spare Change

Michael Simpson & Noreen Mulkern
Spare Change News

Last month Spare Change vendors Michael Simpson and Noreen Mulkern sat down with three-time Governor of Massachusetts and former democratic presidential candidate Michael S, Dukakis. During their conversation Dukakis spoke, among other things, of his policies towards the homeless while he was governor, and issues such as job training for recently released prison inmates. Due to space constraints, we could only print a portion of Simpson and Mulkern’s meeting with Dukakis. The entire interview can be heard on our website at,

SIMPSON: Can you tell me a little bit about your policies toward the homeless while you were in office?
Dukakis: In my first term, from 1974-1978, we had serious problems because we were in the process, since the middle 1960’s, of deinstitutionalizing the mental hospitals. The mental hospitals were nothing to boast about, but they housed a lot of people who had severe emotional problems and many whom we thought could be helped to live good, productive lives with medication, therapy, and whatever in the community we and other states through this process of shrinking and closing down, which means they weren’t available for people with emotional and severe emotional illness. The plan was to replace them with a Network of Community Mental Health Centers around the state where folks could get help within the community and they wouldn’t have to be institutionalized 40 miles away. We didn’t do badly when it came to that. We had problems, but we really didn’t do as much in the community on the mental health issue like we wanted to do. Then Reagan got elected and came in and really slashed the programs, which were the Federal role in low moderate income housing.
I was defeated by King in 1978. Then I came back and beat him in 1982, and by that time we had a full fledged homelessness crisis in this country, and in the state, but it was in that period in the late 1970’s early 1980’s when Reagan comes in while it was being deinstitutionalized. We were not building the kind of community of mental health network that we expected to and it was different then what we had planned to do. So when I was inaugurated in January of 1983, in my inauguration address I said, ‘What’s going on out there is a disgrace.’ I got to meet, (literally the day after my inauguration speech,) with the senate presidential speaker and I’m appointing an advisory committee on homelessness co- chaired by Kitty Duaksis and Bishop Timothy Harrington of Worcester, who’s a terrific guy. We were going to work and deal with this major problem in this state and country. That Friday, I was going to open up the first of several shelters in this state and we were going to make a real commitment towards affordable housing. In fact, we said on that Wednesday, the first meeting of the advisory committee where the members of the committee opened a shelter, by Friday they thought Kitty was insane. Within two days it was opened, that same Friday when Kitty said. It was where the Shattuck Shelter came from. The program was named after her and for the women over there. We proceeded to do both as we developed a network of 60 shelters around the state. We were also doing 6,000-7,000 units of affordable housing every year. That might not sound like a huge amount but if you do it every year, you got a steady increase in supply of housing for people who are looking for housing.
Now look. f your homeless, a great deal of that problem is to have a place to live right. You might have other problems, but if you don’t have a place to live how can you begin to deal with the other problems? You know, we were named the number one state in the country when it came to dealing with homelessness. When I left, Weld came in, and I don’t say this in a rude manner, we had a commitment in this state with the governors of both parties to investing in affordable housing ever since World War Two, when all the vets came back and there was no housing. That’s when it all began. It started as veteran housing and elderly housing. It’s not like we didn’t make any mistakes.
We build, like New York and other places too many massive buildings. For example: Columbia Point. That was bad. It had 15,000 units and that was a big mistake. We shouldn’t have done that. I was a member of something called Special Commission on Low Income Housing. In 1966-1967 it took a hard look at what the state was doing on the housing side. By that time, Columbia Point was already going downhill. It was obvious that building massive public housing projects wasn’t working.
We came up with a whole series of recommendations which included building public housing with no more than 100 units at a single location, kept it small. We decided to try to mix income housing, which no one had tried. Nobody suggested you could have low moderate and high income people in the same development. We did it. It changed dramatically when I left. Well, Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney arrived. Now Deval Patrick is doing a lot of what we were doing, helping homeless people. The recession is a problem. What Deval faces is where he gets the resources to do this.

MS: That’s the question I wanted to know, because of this recession we are having, everything has hit an all time low.
Dukakis: It’s bad, two and a half billion dollars. We drastically cut back on are commitment. When Clinton came in, the feds increased their commitment somewhat until Deval came in. We were basically doing under four republicans governors; quite frankly Romney wasn’t any better than the other two or three. There were drastic cutbacks in the state’s commitment of this kind of thing. We had a serious homelessness problem. We had mental health workers looking for folks. They were finding them, seeking them out, and bringing them back to the hospitals. A Veteran’s Commissioner looking for Vets is a lot, you knew he was out there doing stuff to focus on the homeless vets and whatever the VA was doing. I was very proud of what we did. William Weld comes in with Paul Cellucci and they just don’t believe in that stuff. Jack Cellucci at on point famously said “The market created the problem, the market will solve the problem.’’ Now I agree the market created the problem, the notion that the market can build low moderate income housing with out some kind of public support is nonsense. It’s has to be some degree of subsidized housing. There were Section 8 programs nationally that started here in July 7, 2007. The people could get assistance in renting a regular apartment. It began moving up and that kind of thing you wouldn’t fill out regular housing because they weren’t eligible. This came from the Commission on Low Income Housing and it was something I was deeply involved in legislating. When I became governor I was still committed to it, from 1982-1990, my 2nd and 3rd terms we were doing a lot and in my opinion and very good job. I was defeated by people who just don’t care of these kinds of things. They were not committed to this either, which is very important. I just think when you have been unemployed for months, it seems to me, you know, after maybe a couple of periods of unemployment compensation, it’s time to create these jobs and put these people back to work. Let these people do something useful, and not just go down to the unemployment office.

MS: People who go down the unemployment office, generally, they worked somewhere, but what about people who can’t find a job? People that come out of prison that are a hard time.
Dukakis: Put them in the public service jobs.

MS: They are not hiring in some places. Cambridge does a good job.
Dukakis: Let me give you an example to where we would be able to do something. There’s a huge demand out there for trained landscapers. Okay, a huge demand. We have two crews working at the homestead. There’s a release center in Mattapan where these men are working full time. Four times a week, you see them in a van with green core conservation. The fifth day, they are in the classroom studying and also learning the business side of this job. When these guys come out of this center, some of these men might someday have their own business. Many of these men now work at Home Depot and are using the skills and learning new tools to help them in the future.

MS: They call themselves the Green Team?
Dukakis: Why? Doesn’t that make sense? Why don’t we have 100 of these teams, to train these guys?

MS: Well, because these people that want to, they don’t work.
Dukakis: Give them a little training so they can start their own business, they can do landscaping, or some other job with the skills they were taught. Look; I think we should be doing a million things.

MS: If that’s the case, if you were the governor now, what would you be doing today to get it all together today 2010.?
Dukakis: I think we should have more than two crews working out there. You should have 20 crews out there and they could be doing a million things, developing skills to make them employable so when they get out of prison… they can get a decent job out there. I’m a great believer that everybody that is incarcerated in this state should be in a classroom or working. 40 hours, no exceptions. It should be required. If you are incarcerated for any reason, you should be doing that.

MS: You know, you can’t make someone in prison work.
Dukakis: You can’t make them, but you can condition their parole on them.

MS: Some guys aren’t on parole and they just want to sit around.
Dukakis: You can’t force them. You’re right, but in my experience, the majority want to do something useful.

MS: I don’t know if you remember, but I met you in 1974. I got kicked out of Rhode Island, and I went to Bridgewater. You came down there.
Dukakis: To Bridgewater? How old were you at the time?

MS: I was 26 years old. I went back and did 32 years in the system. I was lazy, but I know the system though. I have been out since 2008. The only job I could get was to caddy at The Belmont Country Club, Deal and No Deal in Connecticut. I sell my artwork on Boston Common. I sell the Spare Change newspaper now. I don’t want to give up. The thing is not wanting to give up. That’s because I have a lot of misfortunes. I found through education and any technology I might have picked up during the way that helped.
Dukakis: Was there anything that helped you, anything you picked up that helped you?

MS: The only thing in prison I picked up was that I hated everybody.
Dukakis: Yeah, but pertaining to job skills and those type of things.

MS: When I first came to prison, I didn’t really know there was such a thing. It was like with the guards- They would write you up and once you get your head turned around, you got to go back to the institution. Then you got too many disciplinary actions. You can’t go there and you have to wait. They cut programs back.
Dukakis: You know, when that happened, when William Weld came in. Weld said, “Bust Rocks.”

MS: The stuff you have implemented to, and I have to give credit to Frank Sargent, they brought stuff in. I didn’t know when I was in prison without graduating high school. I didn’t know I could get my GED. My first time going to Walpole in the 1970’s, I didn’t know until I noticed all my friends went downstairs to the school.
Dukakis: No one told you that?

MS: No. I thought they just went down there shooting the crap; and no one told you anything. I noticed guys going there and then they would ask me if I went downstairs. When I say that I didn’t, they told me that I should because there was a college down there. They went to Norfolk, some place else.
Dukakis: Give folks something useful to do when they come out of prison. Things don’t cost a lot of money. GED classes, job skills. These are the type of things we tried to do. I’m sure we made some mistakes along the way, but I’ll tell you we have a choice in this world. To do the things that will make it less likely to re-offend and give folks that are down… an opportunity to get their lives back in shape.

MS: Well, that’s why I came up with the next question. The people that are down and out I’ve noticed that they don’t have a lot of hope left inside them. I would like to know what would be the most crucial point to help build their self-esteem, and to believe in themselves so that they can try to get their lives back together again.
Dukakis: It depends on what their issues are and the resources that are around. Well, we can’t help everyone but some of these people can get out early from prison, out on parole and get out three months early. Amazing, right? It didn’t cost a nickel. Many of these guys were so good, Michael, that we paroled them in the State Highway Department. Many of them are foremen, the others are supervisors, and so forth. I don’t know what they did in their lives to go to jail, but they turned out to be pretty good people. We gave them a start, you know. They say “Thank you” to them. I see these guys working and go up to them and say, “This place has never looked so good”
and I say, “Thanks.” One of the foremen on the job construction who was in prison, he thinks we turned his life around.

MS: You opened up doors.
Dukakis: That’s one of the nicest things, when some guy comes up to you years later and says, “Thanks”.

NM: We met a guy Saturday. He’s a meter-ticket guy over at Cambridge. He’s on Lifetime Parole. He gets it.
Dukakis: Noreen, when I first became governor, I inherited the dirtiest highway in North America. You have no idea. They were very dirty. I like Frank Sargent, but his people couldn’t clean the highways. I hate graffiti and litter. I hate all that crap everywhere. I want the state to look good, you know. Everyone said we have no money. In 1975, we were in a bad recession, worse than now, 2010. There was 12 percent unemployment, second in the nation. People in jail would go clean these highways. That’s why I said before that that’s why they get out three months early. I’m on this Board of Assembly on Convective MicroPart System and they had an annual meeting at Wentworth and I asked the governor to come on over and talk to them. I introduced him to this great group of men. All these men came. The governor shook all their hands. I think that instead of spending 33 billion dollars on unemployment issues, we should be creating 1 million public service jobs for 33 billion dollars. There are jobs out there for people to do even though we are in a recession. We are closing libraries which are very important to have. I met a woman the other day. She has been out of work for 16 months. This lady has a Bachelor’s in Chemistry, and a Masters in Material Science. I asked her if she ever talked. She said she had to do a lot of talking for her training. She said she loved it. Many people said she was good at it. I said, “I’m under the impression that we need math and science teachers. Why hasn’t she been given the opportunity to go to work?” She could assist a teacher in math and science, and get a teaching credential in one year and be a math and science teacher. Why aren’t we doing this? I don’t get it. Instead; we are fighting about unemployment. These people want to work. They are tired of sitting around. They want a job.

MS: These people have no vehicles and no work documents. Some are homeless. They take what they can get. They have training.
Dukakis: These people were working and it’s if you give them a check for 20 weeks or take that money and create jobs you can put these people to work doing useful stuff. Why aren’t we doing that?

MS: The people that have the real money want to keep it because they don’t want to help the people that don’t have any.
Dukakis: Let me say this to you. Even the folks that are extending their unemployment compensation are prepared to spend the money on public service jobs. The economy is bad right now. We are in a big debate to expand more service jobs.

MS: The three most important things that are on the streets that people really need is housing, employment, and medical care.
Dukakis: And job training. We had great success with homeless people, but not all. Some homeless people have some serious emotional problems. We had great success helping them with their work skills, and to develop some new ones. Now there has to be jobs out there, so you can use these skills that you have learned. Its costing the state $50,000 a year to have someone in prison. When these people come out, like I said earlier, you can have these people get to work. I think when the economy is down the way it was in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, public jobs were a very important part of what we did. The people were laid off. The people couldn’t find work. When this recession is over, these men and women can get back on their feet. Then they will be able to get a good job and be able to support themselves and their families economically. So why aren’t we doing that? Well, I don’t know.

MS: Well, Cambridge does some stuff. Boston lags behind. They just don’t care. Boston does have a door open where you can find something, but sometimes the CORI background checks stop people from being employed.
Dukakis: The governor is trying to fix the problem. I think he’ll get the budget to do it.

MS: I talked to Jack Hart about that a month ago- about this same subject. He told me they were going to pass it. I told him that it’s awfully hard to find work. I’ve been to a lot of temp jobs. They can send out or don’t send out because of their CORI. The people go out and look for work.
Dukakis: Temp jobs are okay, Mike, but we are talking about a good solid program with the public service jobs. The training components are so if you are out of work. if you can’t find a job, you can get a public service job which is just not doing something useful. These people can develop a skill when the jobs are coming back. You will be in a position to find a job in the private sector. That’s what public service jobs are all about. That’s why I don’t understand why we are spending another $33 billion dollars on a fourth round of unemployment compensation. I think public service jobs should be an important part of how you deal with this recession. People aren’t just picking up a check. They are working.

Noreen: Why do you think the people in office after you didn’t care?
Dukakis: One thing I think is that I’m a Democrat, and they are Republican. They don’t think that it’s that important, the public service jobs. Some of it’s philosophical. The fact of the matter is, those that are Democrats believe in a much more activist government than the Republicans do. We talked about the housing piece. Why Weld and Cellucci were so poor when it came to affordable housing? Well because they probably think psychologically that it doesn’t play an important role. When Cellucci said the market will solve the problem, I guess he thought that the private housing market could deal. We all know you can’t think that people can’t afford affordable housing. We had programs up and running. We had a terrific affordable housing program in this state. We had developers, some were community corporations, some where a non- profit and some where profit bankers. We limited their profit, but they were doing fabulous stuff. Are you kidding me? All these old mills in these cities; developed housing, how did that happen? The affordable housing industry- I can’t say enough about these people. The point is, however, that the public sector has to provide some subsidies if you’re going to be able to make this housing affordable.

MS: Right now there is no such thing as affordable housing, only if you get a Section 8.
Dukakis: Well, some things are happening, but we’re not doing 6,000-7,000 a year.

MS: Mass General Hospital owns big properties. They are not paying attention.
Dukakis: The state government has to step in and be a part of this because a private developer cannot produce affordable housing in the market with the current circumstances. It’s has to be much more expensive. The question is, how do you bring the cost of that housing down? The answer is, there has to be some public subsides. It doesn’t necessary have to be public housing- maybe the housing authority. There’s mixed housing. For example, Columbia Point, another one in Lynn, MA called Kings Lynn. Columbia Point, that is- Harvard Point is a far better place than it used to be, right? Why, you might ask. The answer is Joe Corcoran who is a very responsible developer. By the way, he did the same thing in Lynn called Kings Lynn and turned the building apart. That was like another Columbia Point, I believe, to take the whole thing down and start fresh. We were deeply involved. The state put significant amounts of money. When Corcoran worked closely, the tenants were deeply involved. They had priority.

(Photo by Janine Callen)






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