Letter to the Editor

Compassionate reader weighs in homelessness issue

With this letter I wish to add to the Beacon Hill Times Nov.18 issue’s article about the “town hall” meeting on homelessness.

I am including participants’ comments in order to reflect the Beacon Hill Civic

Association’s subtitle: “Looking with Compassion for a Solution.” My intention is to relate the many compassionate concerns about and potential actions to help those amongst us who have no home, no bed, not even a pillow to call their own.

Captain Kenneth Fong from the Boston Police Department, along with Kerri Wells (BPD Community Service Officer) and Jim Greene (City of Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission), all displayed impressive concern for the people on the streets and their willingness to work with the Beacon Hill community.

Jim described portraits of several of the homeless that demonstrated their depth as individuals.  Along with other police officers, Kerri assists the homeless with access and transport to shelters. The police also work to modify errant behavior so neighbors do not feel threatened.

In one instance Kerri pulled aside a guy, who was shadow boxing on Cambridge Street, and explained that what for him was harmless and fun, could be interpreted as threatening and fearful for a neighbor.

Some participants voiced their perceptions that the homeless are a nuisance and a security threat, and I acknowledge that fear at times can be as threatening, or worse, than the perceived threat.  As for the homeless being a nuisance, the invited speakers explained that very few of these men and women would have chosen this life. They have been struck by misfortune, be it mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, PTSD from war experiences or dysfunctional-family experiences, or other conflicts for which they did not have the good fortune—be it money or family networks—to quietly and comfortably keep them afloat.  Rather, they are adrift amongst us. The speakers explained that the best approach to help them is a compassionate one.

Many participants expressed their compassion and asked: What can we do, how can we make them a part of our neighborhood?  Next time we pass one of these unfortunate men or women let us ponder the oft spoken phrase: there but the grace of God go I.  Participants made suggestions for simple things we can do that will not only make them less isolated, but will improve our relationship and understanding of who they are as individuals. One excellent suggestion was to smile, introduce yourself, ask their name and converse with them.

Call 911 if you see an unresponsive person on the street. The 311 app notifies the BPD and city officials of disturbances so that they can better target their outreach.  Contrary to what one might think, it is best not to give them blankets, food, or money as that discourages their use of shelters.  These acts of kindness enable them to stay on the streets, where they are in harms way. Rather, donated clothing to the shelters and in other ways help the organizations.

Another suggestion was to be fully informed of problematic situations.  For example, some participants railed against certain liquor stores selling single serving liquor bottles, which become strewn in doorways.  One explanation of this “nip” bottle influx is that businesspeople purchase and drink them on their lunch hour.  Correcting such misunderstandings leads to better planning and more appropriate actions.

A general consensus at the meeting was that more information was needed and the BHCA agreed to hold a follow-up meeting on mental illness and the homeless.  Attending will help you become better informed.  A key neighborhood participant, Massachusetts General Hospital, was missing from the discussion and it was felt their inclusion is essential to draw upon the resources in our community when designing successful interventions.

I greatly appreciate the BHCA’s willingness to hold this and future discussions on this critical issue, along with the Beacon Hills Times’ promotion and coverage of the meeting.  Thank you also for allowing me to add the many compassionate voices of residents.

Janet Hunkel


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