It’s something of a cliché in contemporary journalism to boast that your outlet amplifies the voices of communities which are typically overlooked by the mass media. Some publications legitimately put in hard work to engage marginalized populations, still some people—especially those who don’t know where they will be sleeping the night after next—are chronically ignored. In Boston, the administration of Mayor Marty Walsh, despite some noteworthy ideas and initiatives to help those on the extreme fringes, tends to dominate the conversation about homelessness. And yet there is another side to the discussion, which can be found in the letter herein. -Dig Editors
AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE CLIENTS OF PROJECT SOAR AND SAFE HARBOR
Dear Mayor Walsh:
We, the clients of Project SOAR and Safe Harbor, transitional housing programs for formerly homeless men in recovery and men living with HIV, have sent you a petition and two letters over the course of the past two months to protest the imminent closure of these vital programs and subsequent threat of being thrown out on the streets and back into the city’s shelter system.
The Boston Public Health Commission replied on May 12, dismissing our concerns and affirming its plan to end these programs on June 30 of this year with no permanent housing for any of us in sight. We write this open letter to appeal to your conscience as a fellow person in recovery, one who aspires to be a man of his word.
Since our first letter, the conditions we detailed (including lack of, or no food at meals; no access to beds or medication during the day; and lack of available case management staff) have only deteriorated daily. Worse, there has been virtually no follow up on commitments by your administration to find us safe, affordable, and permanent housing.
For two years your administration knew our programs were being defunded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, yet failed to seek alternative sources to maintain their operation and help ensure our stability. This was followed by the ill-conceived and thoughtless implementation of a closure plan that has been seriously destabilizing. It has directly resulted in the loss of long-term employment for one of us, and caused several others to return to problematic drug use. As a person in recovery yourself, you know the grave risk relapse presents, including death, to those attempting to maintain their sobriety.
Since you became mayor, our programs were abruptly and needlessly displaced from Long Island in 2014 with no notice or plan, causing many to return to problematic drug use as a result of the trauma. Some of our friends have died as a result this closure. The city committed to restoring Project SOAR and Safe Harbor at the Southampton Shelter when it opened eight months later. They were among the fraction of recovery services from Long Island restored in Boston, despite the exploding opioid epidemic.
Now, two and a half years after the Long Island catastrophe, your administration is reneging on even this modest and inadequate commitment.
These actions fail to fulfill commitments you and your administration have made concerning supporting the needs of community members who are seeking or working to maintain their recovery.
Project SOAR and Safe Harbor have provided us a secure bed, adequate and secure storage for our belongings and medications, program support and an opportunity to work and move forward in a positive direction. We have been homeless before; we do not want to be homeless again, reliant on competing for beds each night in wet shelters and unable to work due to restrictive hours. For some, throwing us onto the streets will violate conditions of parole requiring enrollment in a recovery program, and would likely result in re-incarceration, as happened to one of us when you shut down Long Island.
We once again call upon you to take immediate and urgent action to replace lost HUD funds with city, state, or other federal funds to ensure that the critically needed services offered by Project SOAR and Safe Harbor are continued beyond this month.
At minimum, Safe Harbor should be maintained as a transitional program until permanent housing is provided for all, as it has secure funding through the Ryan White Care Act. To this end, we urge you to include $5 million in the city budget to fund permanent low-income rent subsidies to meet the broken promise of “Housing First” for us and hundreds of our fellow Bostonians experiencing homelessness.
Clients of Project SOAR and Safe Harbor