Homeless Focus of BHCA Meeting

by Dan Murphy

A crowd of about 60 residents came to 74 Joy Street Thursday evening to hear representatives from the city’s Emergency Shelter, Area A-1 Boston Police Department and the Suffolk University Police Department discuss ways to interact with homeless individuals and what is being done to get them off the street and into a place where they receive the help they need. Further programs on understanding the homeless are currently being planned by the BHCA.

A crowd of about 60 residents came to 74 Joy Street Thursday evening to hear representatives from the city’s Emergency Shelter, Area A-1 Boston Police Department and the Suffolk University Police Department discuss ways to interact with homeless individuals and what is being done to get them off the street and into a place where they receive the help they need. Further programs on understanding the homeless are currently being planned by the BHCA.

At a “town meeting” sponsored by the Beacon Hill Civic Association, around 50 residents joined police and other officials for a discussion on the issue of pervasive homelessness in the neighborhood.

“It’s not a simple issue,” Captain Kenneth Fong of Boston Police Area A-1 said. “ People are on the street for a lot of different reasons.”

Fong shared finding from recent censuses of the overnight homeless in the District 1, which shows that the population averaged around 145 during the summer months and between 70 and 75 during the winter. Among the most popular outdoor locations for the homeless to congregate on Beacon Hill are in and around Cambridge Street and the Boston Common.

“We generally recommend that you not give them food, money or other donations,” Fong said. “Food is the biggest motivator. By giving them food, that allows them to stay on the street. We want them to go into shelters where they can get services.”

Jim Greene, director of the city’s Emergency Shelter Commission, said District 1 is home to the largest number of daytime service providers and near several major transit hubs, which he believes attributes largely for its homeless population.

Each week, Greene joins street outreach workers, public safety officials, and public health and other service providers to discuss ways to better address the issue. “District 1 is the most proactive and the best partner citywide,” he said. Greene estimates between 1,560 and 1,750 homeless are housed in city shelters on any given night. Through two initiatives from Mayor Martin Walsh’s office, around 800 veterans and 200 chronically homeless individuals (who have been on the street for a year or more) have received overnight housing over the last two years. Plans are also now underway to secure federal money to launch a “strategic” effort to combat youth homelessness, Greene added.

Greene, meanwhile, urges residents to call 911 if they see what appears to be a public health or safety issue involving individuals who appear homeless.

Kerri Wells, community service officer for Boston Police Area A-1, also asks residents to call 911 if homeless individuals are blocking their doorways – a measure that also helps police track areas where they commonly congregate or loiter.

“You are our eyes and ears, and it helps when you reach out to us to tell us what’s going on,” Wells said. “I can’t promise we can remove them, but we can clean it up a little bit and make it a better place from everyone.”

Cambridge Street will also receive some additional coverage, thanks to Suffolk University police, who are relocating to the sixth-floor of the Ridgeway Building at 148 Cambridge St. from their previous headquarters in the Hiriam J. Archer building on Temple Street.

Sgt. Ramon Nunez of Suffolk police said the university is currently petitioning the city for a parking space outside of the building, which would be reserved for its two patrol crews and allow them to deploy more rapidly.

            “You will see us patrolling in the area, effective Dec. 8,” Nunez said. “We’re going to be down here on Cambridge Street and hope we can make a difference.”

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