For months, Boston has been on edge over the mystery surrounding an unidentified toddler found off of the Deer Island peninsula in Boston Harbor. Now, with law enforcement reportedly finding answers this past weekend, the story of the baby’s short life has been overshadowed by the sordid past of her guardians, or lack thereof.
Bella Bond’s birth parents had run-ins with the law, her mother a history of drug use. In recent days, her biological father told reporters that she was conceived at Occupy Boston while he and her mom, back then a couple, were homeless. Not long after, Bella was born while her mom was living in a shelter in Roxbury.
Boston failed Bella and her mother, and they’re not alone. In the past year, we’ve seen a spike in homeless families in Boston, according to the city’s annual count. This tsunami of inadequate infrastructure and opiate rehabilitation options collides with continued fallout from the closure of Long Island, and with and the resulting suspension of transitional treatment programs, for which the Boston Public Health Commission is still searching for a suitable replacement site.
Meanwhile, the total number of homeless persons (men, women, and children) in the city has increased by about 18 percent, while the number of homeless adults in treatment since the aforementioned interruption has significantly decreased. Mayor Marty Walsh has lauded the city’s efforts to respond quickly, as have many parrots in the media, and certain praise may be in order. But for individuals and families on the street, eight months is an excruciatingly long time to wait for a bed, especially during the winter. That’s how long it took to replace some of the Long Island services with a new facility on Southampton Street.
Spin the story any way you wish, and the fact remains that Mayor Walsh severed a lifeline for many of Boston’s homeless right before one of the worst winters in history. Blame whomever you want, but in our cruel city, where we struggle to find shelter and affordable housing for those in need, many luxury apartments built using taxpayer-funded subsidies are left empty for months while realtors hold out for top dollar. Another inconvenient fact: Boston rolls out welcome mats for developers, and scrambles to provide basic services for its most vulnerable residents.
We just passed the autumn equinox. The days are getting shorter, and the temperature is beginning to cool. Many people are still complaining about last winter, yet the fearful prospect of another bunch of blizzards is already the talk of the town. With another cold front coming, the city doesn’t only need a better plan; instead, our leaders need to try imagining what winter feels like on the street. Without that basic sense of humanity, the trends in place right now will surely lead to more unspeakable deaths that could have been prevented.