A holiday message
Institutions with more wealth than many nations have no excuse for inaction during a pandemic
A temporary homeless shelter opened Saturday night at the War Memorial Recreation Center in Mid-Cambridge—after two weeks before city councillors and a day late after a last-minute change requiring guests to test negative for COVID-19. Results from tests at the city’s warming center for the homeless Thursday did not arrive until Saturday afternoon.
Editor's note: The following petition was drafted by Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan and is reprinted here in the public interest. Read "Cambridge Plan to Warehouse Homeless Could Spark COVID Outbreak" by DigBoston's Jason Pramas for more background.
City Council, Gov. Baker have the power to force universities—Harvard, MIT, and Lesley—and hotels to provide better alternatives
“We said we’re going to do this the same way the British had to get their troops out of Dunkirk,” the radio host said. “It was an immediate need. They were going to die and homeless people are dying.”
“There [are] unfortunately huge, discriminatory barriers that we can’t completely destroy on our own ... That takes a huge cultural movement."
We don’t get much news about Western Mass in Boston. And since the population is relatively small in the largely rural western counties of the Commonwealth, it can be easy to miss significant stories. Because the scale of noteworthy happenings is naturally smaller there. Because our diminished metro news outlets have trouble covering the entire state. And because, let’s be honest, Bostonians don’t usually care about what happens west of, like, Brookline.
So at first glance, word of a homeless encampment out in Greenfield isn’t something that would get much attention hereabouts at the best of times. But for a city with a population that fell by more than 500 people to 17,456 between the 2000 and 2010 censuses—with a median household income of $33,110, and 14 percent of residents below the poverty line—it’s an important enough development to warrant a series of articles in the local press. And I think it deserves coverage here in the Hub as well.
Especially when the encampment is on the Greenfield Common, opposite the Greenfield City Hall (better known as the Town Hall prior to a recent change in nomenclature). Something unusual is definitely afoot.
It seems two local homeless people began camping on the common a couple of months ago. A number that quickly grew to 20 regular residents in as many as a dozen tents. According to the Greenfield Recorder, their “de facto spokeswoman” Madelynn Malloy “and others have said previously they are camping on the common because there is no other place that is safe for homeless residents to go and because current city law allows them to stay there day or night. There are no requirements for licenses or permits to be there and the homeless residents’ actions are not considered loitering, but public assembly. The city has an ordinance prohibiting loitering, but it only applies to sidewalks.”
A city count of last January pegged the homeless population at 39, but area charities have said the actual number is significantly higher—as they noted during the brutal cold snap at the end of 2017 when their shelters were so overwhelmed that the Salvation Army put up $1,600 to house people at Days Inn. Since that time, the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and homeless advocates have been pushing for the city to do more. Meanwhile, the encampment has put a very human and public face on the crisis, and has sparked meetings and debates in local government about how to find housing for the homeless.
Unfortunately, there seems to be at least as much concern from Mayor William Martin to get the city council to pass rules effectively banning camping on Greenfield Common as there is to find ways to house local homeless people. The latter being the obvious policy priority, if for no other reason than to relieve overwhelmed private social service agencies.
Most recently, a breakthrough of sorts—also reported in the Greenfield Recorder—happened when the city council voted to put a port-a-potty closer to the common than the one local churches previously made available. “According to the Department of Public Works, the cost of a temporary restroom is $150 a month and includes emptying it. The mayor’s office said the first two months of the portable toilet would be paid for by the Interfaith Council and an unnamed local business. There is no plan currently in place for funding after the two months.” The council also voted, apparently contrary to the mayor’s wishes, to decrease “regulations on churches to set up temporary shelters” and open “the former Wedgewood Gardens property on Kimball Drive as a possible site for an encampment.” The mayor then vowed to “attempt to find temporary housing solutions through a ‘rapid re-housing team’” made up of “city officials and social service and humanitarian agencies.”
Baby steps perhaps. But it would not do to underplay the difficult situation Greenfield government finds itself in. It’s going to take officials time to find even a stopgap solution. Large cities like Boston aren’t doing a great job of dealing with a growing homeless crisis either; so it’s obviously more difficult for smaller municipalities with fewer resources to house and provide services for even a few dozen people.
Particularly when, as was pointed out in a
I know a homeless person who was told by a Beverly police officer to “go to Lynn.” In fact, he was even offered a one-way ride there. I met a couple from Saugus who lived under the Casey Bridge last summer. I asked them, “Why are you here?” They told me, “We are users but are trying to get back on our feet. The cops in Saugus wouldn’t let us stay camped out in the woods.”
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.