Update: Comment on Recent Media Coverage of Homelessness in Boston

     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 short feature on Boston’s ABC televison WCVB’s Channel 5 news which showed a bullet-hole in a window of the Massachusetts State House (which was built directly next to and overlooking the Common).  Bullets (and the resulting ‘holes’) and politics and politicians are NEVER a good thing (except, perhaps, when well argued during a time of revolution or war), so ...the bullet-hole in the State House window was ...just a bad thing for the Bay State’s societal and security numbers.  As matters continue, Tuesday at twelve o'clock noon (Aug. 28), I was taking a short rest from walking across town (okay–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’ve favored over the years.  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 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 of the fence from the officers and the Rangers.  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 12 to 1 PM.  It’s not news–it’s littering.

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 some are the results of our modern 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.

      I’ve been developing a web-page on the Homeless in Boston and it’s still a couple or three weeks away from completion.  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.  The goal of my 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 be in pain.  I’ll explain more when I can.

BostonNOW newspaper recommendation for students to use the Common (9-4-07, p. 12).
Return to The City of Boston Homeless Hall of Shame or Miscellany Collection or