The City of Boston Homeless Hall of Shame
By R. D. Flavin
I took photographs of the Homeless in Boston during August 2007 with the intention of sending them to Mayor Menino. Updates followed, years have passed, Boston has a new mayor, old shelters have closed and new ones have opened, the problem of homelessness still exists, though recently I've received assistance from the Pine Street Veteran's Program and have been introduced to the good works of the charitable "The Community Friends for Human Services, Inc." This article demands a sequel which I will compose over the coming weeks. Please stop back around August 1, 2015...
The Official Seal of the City Of Boston and City Hall (rumored to be homeless soon).
Please click thumbnail images below for larger versions.
1) Behind City Hall, 2) outside of a court building, and 3) across from the TD Banknorth Garden.
4) Homeless woman on the Common, 5) pan-handler behind the Old South Meeting House, and 6) an "Unreachable."
7) Two guys and Trinity Church, 8) Comm. Ave. in Allston, and 9) the CS Mother Church on Mass. Ave.
10) Bags, a bench and a bike, 11) under a bridge, and 12) sleeping behind the Rear Admiral.
13) Napping at Central and India Streets, 14) waiting for a best-seller, and 15) Native American woman on Boylston St.
16) Public Garden love.
On September 4, 2007 I added an update in response to media coverage of a shooting on the Common.
As matters go, Sunday evening on Aug. 26, 2007 there was an incident of gunfire on the Boston Common. Monday evening (Aug. 27) I saw a feature on Boston’s ABC televison WCVB’s Channel 5 news which showed a bullet-hole in a window of the Massachusetts State House. Bullets and politicians should NEVER be associated unless there's war. As matters continue, Tuesday at twelve o'clock noon (Aug. 28), I was taking a short rest from walking across town (okay–I stopped to sip bottled water and smoke a cigarette) on a spot of grass a third of the upward sloping way between the MBTA Park Street station and the State House. I’m sure I’ve rested at the same spot dozens of times over the last thirty years–it ain’t public park Feng shui, it’s just a spot I continue to favor. While there, I witnessed two Boston Police officers approach a couple of guys sleeping on a nearby bench. Within seconds, a half-dozen Homeless who were setting up small blanket-camps on the grass nearby, rushed to the apparent defense of the guys sleeping on the benches. I couldn’t say what happened next, I was too far away, but it appeared the cops asked the guys to sit upright on the benches rather than sleep flat-out prone, said a few words to the concerned Homeless, and ...left. For a second, maybe two, I thought the Boston Police were going to roust the guys on the bench, but that was my own personal paranoia. The cops told the guys to sit rather than lay down on the bench (perhaps adding a few calming words to the concerned Homeless who came forward) and ...left. Cool. Humane, compassionate, just doing their jobs without attitude cops. I was and remain proud of those Boston Police officers and how they dealt with the Homeless on that occasion. More sipped water, a few more puffs on my cigarette, and I looked again at the bench and the guys had returned to their prone (sleeping) positions. I then saw two brown and tan uniformed Park Rangers walk up to the sleeping guys and the SAME events seemed to take place all over again. Several Homeless again rushed to the defense of the sleeping guys, the Rangers made the guys sit up rather than lie down and ...left. I was sitting on the grass, finishing up my cigarette, watched the two rangers who’d dealt with the sleeping guys meet up with two more Rangers, and as I stubbed out my cigarette (saving the filter to throw away later), the four Rangers walked past me and one of them asked rhetorically, “Nice day, isn’t it?” Sometimes Boston Police and authority figures (MBTA and B.U. rent-a-guns come to mind) may be corrupt and abusive for diverse reasons, but on THAT day I viewed some fine behavior from all sides. Well done, public service guys! Well done! I repeated this personal tale to a few friends and believed the incidents would be filed away under the “‘Authority’ not always bad” file I mentally maintain. Wednesday (Aug. 29) is remembered as just another day... Thursday (Aug. 30), the Boston Herald newspaper published a couple of stories about the Homeless, the Common, the shooting, and other matters which ...were inflammatory and essentially misleading because of their deliberate and overwhelmingly sensationalist and biased presentations. A poorly scanned image of the stories is online here. The Boston Herald stories essentially combined an interview with some Ghosts and Gravestones tourists, the owner of the tour guide business, and a drug overdose incident three days after the Sunday night shooting. Fear, flee and profit! For some weeks now at dozens of major locations around the city, every weekday the Boston Herald has begun to give away thousands of their newspapers free after 12PM. It’s not news–it’s littering. Some say that the free papers have been given away for eight years, but recently the amount has become burdensome (i.e. trash and annoying vendors).
Boston Herald headline from Aug. 30, 2007.
Also on Aug. 30, 2007, The Boston Globe published a story about the Homeless entitled , “Curfew targets crime on Common: Homeless protest ouster from park.” The story (online here) approached the many separate issues and problems with responsibility and credibility. Fine journalism from The Globe! However, admitting that newspapers exist to make money, on Sept. 2, 2007 they ran a story about local quilt makers donating their efforts to various shelters around Greater Boston. It’s a fluff piece, I sure wish all the quilt makers would make better use of their volunteered time, but ...at least the story wasn’t doom and gloom. “Quilters patch together help for the homeless” is available online here.
In every big city across the country (and even some smaller cities, as well) there are Homeless concerns, drug related crimes, gang or random gun shootings, employment and housing problems and so on. Some of these sad situations may be traced back to our earliest ancient cities, while many are the result of our inability to handle certain situations other than by sewing a red letter of shame on an offender or tossing them behind bars. As there are many different components to these problems, no single solution is possible. And “doom and gloom” won’t help either!
Photograph of a discarded hypodermic syringe on the Rose Kennedy Greenway taken Sept. 1, 2007.
Discussing the etymology of ‘hobo’ or differentiating between the social tiers of hobo, tramp and bum sounds like something I’ll likely blather about at one point, crime issues are a police concern, and employment and housing are difficulties for those better suited to find an answer. My goal and current interest in these topics is to focus on those who need our help the most, that is the emotionally challenged, the mentally infirm and those with personality disorders which prevent them from participating fully in society. Years ago, to save money, many mental institutions dumped their patients on to the streets. They’re still there... They are frightened, have no advocates, survive away from the shelters and we, as a society, need to help them. The unemployed, the temporarily down-on-their-luck sort, the drunks and druggies, the runaways and all the rest have organizations in place to help them. We need to help those most in need. It is our shame that we allow these lonely, confused and ill citizens to suffer needlessly.
BostonNOW newspaper recommendation for students to use the Common (9-4-07, p. 12).
Last Friday, Sept. 14, 2007, the Mayor’s Office announced a new program, Boston Common Ground Housing Initiative, created to move the Homeless into housing through a staff of fifty workers who will walk through the park day and night to help the Homeless fill out applications for assistance. It sounds like a beginning and I hope it does some good. I’ll update in a couple of months or sooner (as I'll send a printed copy of this web-page to the Mayor and report what happens). For more information on the new program, contact:
Emergency Shelter Commission
Jim Greene, Director
1 City Hall Plaza
Boston, MA 02201
Coda: Death and the Homeless
[Update–12-18-07: A few weeks back I stopped in at the Emergency Shelter Commission and asked about the “Initiative.” I was told by a staff worker that the “Initiative” had only lasted a several weeks, it was primarily made up of volunteers from area shelters and there was never any plan to make it an ongoing program. The staff worker tried to explain to me why the office was misnamed, that they don’t assist individuals in need (except to hand out printed directions to the Boston Housing Authority and a short-list of local shelters and places to get a free meal. What the office actually does (that is, why all the workers have desks and computers) escaped me. It’s probably about image, tourists and businesses. Stating the obvious–it’s a waste of time for anyone in need.]
Two examples of recent deaths of the Homeless couldn’t be more different. A couple of months ago, in the Boston neighborhood of Allston, a well-known homeless man passed away. Harold "Mr. Butch" Madison, Jr. accidently rode a small motor-scooter into a lamppost and died instantly. The neighborhood collectively mourned, held a parade in his honor and set up a memorial. The Boston Globe sponsors an online forum for comments about his life and death, there are Wikipedia and MySpace web-pages dedicated to him and the neighborhood is remembering him as a musician, artist, counter-culture hero and societal rebel. Well, that’s ...fine, as folks grieve in their own ways, however, I knew Mr. Butch personally and I’m more angry than sad over his passing. Honestly, despite some talent, he had mental and emotional issues. Mr. Butch was able to avoid shelters and assistance programs by accepting handouts. It was a long, slow public suicide and while it’s sweet that he’s getting attention after his death, I’m pissed he didn’t get counseling while he was alive. Adiós, Mr. B...
Click on images for larger versions.
Sidewalk signature, street memorial, window respect and a RIP graffito.
Earlier this week in Boston’s new SoWa district of the South End, a homeless man died and, sadly, contrary to Allston’s reaction to the passing of Mr. Butch they’ll be no parade or memorial.
Screen capture of online Boston Globe headline.
It was raining and Boston’s premier homeless shelter, the Pine Street Inn, had shut its doors. A homeless man crawled underneath a truck owned by the shelter and when the truck was moved he was killed. I shouldn’t add anything as Pine Street services those in need. Although, their fund-raising events, celebrity volunteers and holiday photo-opportunities creep me out, but that’s their shtick and it’s not for me to judge. However, it’s wrong to keep the Homeless in the rain because of policy. Period. Shelters exist to provide shelter and a homeless man died because of an administrative decision.
Humans, homeless or otherwise, die when their time is up. I hope Boston will reach out and give the Homeless more time.
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