Letters to the Editor

Misunderstanding Homelessness

To the Editor, 

I was unpleasantly surprised by the choice to publish the “Homeless Problem” letter in the Sept. 15 edition — especially as it was printed right next to an editorial rightly acknowledging that the War On Drugs has been an abject failure. I agree with the letter writer that the prevalence of homelessness in Beacon Hill, often touted as the richest neighborhood in Boston, is a huge problem. However, both myself and the abundance of evidence disagree with every other point and conclusion the letter writer has drawn. 

First, the letter writer mentions repeatedly that they have seen tents and one single grill, as if shelter from the elements and cooked food are luxuries rather than life-sustaining necessities. Further, the letter writer seems to imply that if someone can afford the one-time cost of a tent or grill, they could just as easily afford housing in a city where the median rent is over $3,000. I assume the letter writer is unaware that so-called “hostile architecture,” or strategies that make it harder for unhoused people to survive, actually make the experience of living in a city worse for everyone. The absence of easily available public bathrooms, benches with uncomfortable bars and low walls covered in spikes that make them impossible to rest against are common examples of hostile architecture that have negatively affected all of us, regardless of housing status. 

Second, the author seems to fundamentally misunderstand addiction as a moral failure rather than a medical emergency. In reality, alcohol, nicotine and opiates are the three most addictive substances available to humanity. Opiate withdrawal is one of the most difficult and painful experiences a person could undergo, and withdrawal from alcohol without sufficient medical support (which unhoused people are unlikely to be able to access) can be deadly. The single biggest risk factor for developing an opiate addiction is lawfully receiving a prescription for opiate medication from a doctor. Pharmaceutical companies were well aware of the addiction potential of these medications yet chose to suppress this data and spent millions of dollars encouraging doctors to over-prescribe opiates under the falsehood that they had no associated risks. It is also well-established that imprisonment is one of the least effective interventions for addiction. 

The letter writer again implies that one can afford rent if they can afford alcohol (in reality often purchased in the form of cheap airplane bottles to stave off life-threatening withdrawal symptoms), cigarettes (“$14 a pack” per the letter writer though most often purchased as single loose cigarettes), or heroin (knowingly or unknowingly, much more likely lab-manufactured fentanyl, which is both more potent and cheaper than poppy-derived heroin and the driving force behind the current overdose crisis). It is true that addiction can be wildly expensive, but it is not commensurate with the egregious cost of rent in Boston at this time. Establishing sobriety from the grasp of addiction is one of the hardest things a person could do even when they have all of the resources in the world at their disposal. I wonder if the letter writer would similarly call for the imprisonment of our community members who are struggling with addiction from the privacy of their own homes, or if they are more displeased that their “picture-perfect” journeys along esplanade have been marred by the inconvenient reminder of the existence of human suffering. 

The letter closed with an ominous insinuation that unhoused people are likely to rape and murder those of us with the fortune of being housed unless they are rounded up and expelled from our community. Beyond the Orwellian thoughtcrime vibes implicit in this message, this is factually inaccurate. Our unhoused neighbors are significantly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than those of us with reliable access to shelter. In reality, the most dangerous place for a woman is inside of her own home. The vast majority of rapes and murders are perpetrated by intimate partners, and police officers have some of the highest rates of perpetrating domestic violence. 

The published letter relied exclusively on fearmongering, stigma and factual inaccuracies to demonize our unhoused neighbors. Many of our more fortunate neighbors are unaware that we live close to the New England Center for Homeless Veterans and that many unhoused members of our community are disabled Veterans who have been failed by the country they sought to protect. Overall, the letter writer seems to misunderstand homelessness as a choice that morally compromised individuals make rather than an issue in which our society has systemically failed to protect some of its most vulnerable members. I am honestly unsurprised that one of our more privileged neighbors holds such views, but I was shocked and disappointed that the Times staff made the choice to publish it. 

-A Concerned Reader

Growing Encampment Issues

To the Editor,

I write as the Chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s Parks and Public Spaces Committee.  Over the past several months, our committee has noted a dramatic increase in number of homeless individuals and encampments on the Esplanade.  (Similar encampments have been noted in other Boston neighborhoods.)  In particular, individuals have been camping under the Appleton Footbridge ramps and stairs, the encampments have spread to literal tents:  

BHCA has brought these encampments to the attention of the City and the DCR.  This has resulted in a temporary displacement, but every time the encampments have returned and they are now expanding.  Because of the unique nature of the Esplanade, a state park completely within the City of Boston, it has been a challenge for any government entity to own this problem.

The issue of homelessness is complex, but solving it is possible.  The BHCA calls on city and state government, neighborhood associations, businesses, and residents, all of us — to care enough and invest more effort and resources in action on the Esplanade, and implementation of proven strategies that will end these encampments and help these homeless individuals.  This effort starts with a continuation on the Esplanade of what has been shown to work in other parts of our City – a removal of encampments and provision of housing and services for these individuals.  It is not humane or beneficial to have individuals camping outside as fall arrives and winter approaches. 

Colin Zick

Chair, BHCA Parks and

Public Spaces Committee

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