[Hpn] Back Bay shantytowns dismantled: Assaults prompt sweep, official says; Boston Globe; 9/9/2005; + discussion board

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@gmail.com
Fri, 9 Sep 2005 09:59:10 -0700


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Boston Globe discussion board:

How to help the homeless?http://boards.boston.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?nav=messages&tsn=1&tid=1162&webtag=bc-news
Posted by BostonDotCom on 7:20 AM         Message #1162.1
State Police and officials from homeless shelters swept through theBack Bay yesterday to dismantle shantytowns that homeless people hadbuilt under bridges, the Globe reported today [http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2005/09/09/back_bay_shantytowns_dismantled/]. The sweep brought new attention to the plight of Boston's homeless,estimated to number about 6,000 people.  Do you have any suggestionson how to help the city's homeless?

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Friday, September 9, 2005Boston Globe[Boston, Massachusetts]Local News: Massachusetts sectionBack Bay shantytowns dismantledhttp://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2005/09/09/back_bay_shantytowns_dismantled/
Assaults prompt sweep, official says
By Suzanne Smalley, Globe Staff  |  September 9, 2005
State Police and Department of Conservation and Recreation crews,accompanied by officials from homeless shelters, swept through theBack Bay yesterday to dismantle shantytowns homeless people had builtunder bridges.
State officials launched the joint operation after several assaults inthe last few weeks and repeated complaints from area residents andbusinesses about safety, noise, and public drinking. During their fourhours under the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, underneath the Bowkeroverpass and at Charlesgate East, crews removed four garbage trucksfull of debris that included scrap metal, mattresses, blankets, boxes,and assorted personal belongings.
''It's state property," said Lieutenant Sharon Costine, a State Policespokeswoman. ''It's gotten a little out of hand down there."
But after Hurricane Katrina displaced hundreds of thousands along theGulf Coast, yesterday's sweep also brought new attention to the plightof Boston's homeless, estimated to number about 6,000 people.
A shelter official estimates that about half that number spend atleast some time under bridges to escape the elements, while the restspend most of their time in shelters. The number of homeless living inencampments is believed to be far smaller.
Of the three dozen or more homeless people whose encampments were torndown yesterday, only a handful were present when work crews arrived.All those evicted were offered space in shelters, but only oneaccepted, said Shepley Metcalf, spokeswoman for the Pine Street Inn, ahomeless shelter in the South End.
She said workers from the shelter planned to return last night toexplain to people what happened. ''Their things won't be there,"Metcalf said. ''That will be difficult for them."
State Police officers who patrol the area were ordered to make surethe displaced don't return and try to reconstruct the shantytown.''The goal is to displace the homeless from DCR properties," said aBoston police e-mail about the operation.
State Police said they plan a similar effort next week at severalother encampments on state property. They would not identify the areasand declined to be more specific about their plans.
Complaints from Back Bay residents and businesses about theshantytowns go back at least two years, but have grown louderrecently.
City Councilor Michael Ross said he encouraged state agencies to dothe sweep after his office was flooded with calls expressing concernover what he called ''extremely dangerous" conditions. Ross saidsomeone was sexually assaulted in one of the shantytowns last weekend.
''We could no longer turn a blind eye to the drug and alcohol usegoing on there," Ross said. ''Students at [Boston University],residents, and businesses in the surrounding neighborhood were callingto say they were afraid to cross under the Bowker [overpass]. . . . Iwas concerned there would be more sexual assaults."
Costine said police are aware of the sexual assault and added thatthere have also been armed assaults in the shantytowns in the lastseveral weeks.
Noel Diaz, a 58-year-old homeless man who lives under theMassachusetts Avenue bridge, said he lost everything in yesterday'soperation.
''All my stuff -- coats, beds," said Diaz, who returned to hismakeshift living quarters after the sweep. ''I'll bring in new ones."
But police say people bringing in new material will be forciblyremoved. And, in some cases, rebuilding won't be easy. Many homelesspeople lost more than a few possessions.
Metcalf said many lost ''highly constructed [shanties] with livingareas and many layers for shelter from the rain. . . . It's not likeit's just a tarp and a blanket."
Ross said he is troubled by the suffering of the homeless, but said healso has a duty to protect his constituents. He blamed funding cutsfor the squalor under the bridges of Boston, just out of the publiceye.
''It's tragic that there aren't, primarily, state and federalresources to do what needs to be done. You're talking about theshutting down of methadone clinics and shelters," Ross said. ''This isa problem that comes right down to health and human services . . .especially for substance-abuse treatment."
Residents near the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and Charlesgate Eastencampments also expressed sympathy for the homeless.
Cathal Hickey, a bartender at the Crossroads Irish Pub on the cornerof Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street, said that many of thearea's homeless drink at the bar on occasion.
''They were gentlemen," Hickey said.
Chelsea Camp, a BU freshman living near the encampments, said sheisn't bothered by the homeless living near student housing.
''They haven't been out in the street," she said. ''They stay with their stuff."
Rebecca Marston, who works at Capitol Realty Group Inc. on CharlesStreet in Beacon Hill, said that recently the homeless problem hasintensified to the point that she installed a security system to feelsafe in the office during the day. Still, she said, she doesn'tbelieve that the police should force people to leave the only homethey know.
''Just to go and rattle them out of their homes is really cruel,"Marston said. ''I'd like to know what they're doing for them."
But State Police said their effort was well-intentioned and agreedwith Ross that the situation had become hazardous. They also said theywork with advocates for the homeless and medical advisers to ensurethe population is given options.
''This is a proactive approach," Costine said. ''This wasn't justkicking people out. . . . We had a place for them to go."

Suzanne Smalley can be reached at ssmalley@globe.com
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