[Hpn] Letting A Homeless Man Be

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 18 Sep 2005 08:38:24 -0400

In rich enclave, letting a homeless man be

Two worlds coexist in park

By Malena Amusa, Globe Correspondent

September 18, 2005

Multimillion-dollar homes surround the manicured greens. Expensive cars park 
along nearby curbs. And all around, on warm days, neighbors bare skin and 
sport stylish sunglasses.
One of the lawn loungers at Brookline's pristine Knyvet Square park, 
however, doesn't dress for the season. Like the others, he has dark glasses, 
but he also wears two dark skullcaps, a long, gray trench coat, and black 
tights. He sits on a lavender blanket, where he keeps several old radios, an 
old suitcase, and a rusting shopping cart, which he fills with old blankets.
''This is a good place for me," he says.
William O'Neil has made his home out of this patch of grass, and the 
34-year-old stands out for more than his mismatching clothes. He's one of 
the town's relatively few homeless residents.
Compared with Boston, where there are hundreds of chronically homeless 
people, town officials say there are only seven chronically homeless 
residents in Brookline, meaning those who are homeless for more than a year.
''It's a very strange neighborhood to see a homeless person in," says Darin 
Manoogian, a marketing analyst working in Brookline. Pointing to a hill off 
Amory Street, where high-end homes cluster, he said:If neighbors ''want to 
get rid of him, they could. ... There's mansions up there."
One morning late last month, O'Neil ignored the rain on the blanket covering 
his body as he rested on the grass. He lay next to his radio, tuned to 108 
FM's pop hits. While morning commuters hustled into the dryness of their 
cars and homes, O'Neil remained, resigned to the downpour.
Given the wealth of the neighborhood, Knyvet Square might seem unusual as a 
resting spot for the down-and-out. But O'Neil has become a community 
fixture, someone whose spot in the park neighbors tend to leave for him.
''I sometimes feel like I'm invading his privacy," says Manoogian, 39, who 
takes a lunch break at the park to do yoga a few feet from O'Neil's spot 
under a small tree.
Others lay out on the periphery of his patch, respecting his space, as if it 
were a private room. Police rarely bother him. And some bring him food.
''Brookline is the place where you can be who you are," said Alan Balsam, 
the town's public health commissioner, who credits tolerant neighbors for 
his continuing presence.
''We're willing and ready to help, but if people don't want to be helped, 
then we're willing to let them live."
By 10 a.m., O'Neil is up from his rest and pushing his cart down a slippery 
Amory Street. He was on his way to his brother's house in Roxbury, he said, 
quickly leaving when approached.
O'Neil appears to have slipped through the cracks of government support; 
some town officials who work with the local homeless population haven't even 
heard of him.
Brookline's homeless resources are focused primarily on the transitionally 
homeless, such as people who have been recently evicted, and on homelessness 
prevention, says Stephen Bressler, director of human relations and youth 
This may also explain why another longtime homeless person in Brookline, 
Jimmy Brown, was able to live around the Muddy River and in the town's other 
parks for more than a decade.
Brown died last year, and some town officials have mistaken O'Neil for him.
In another encounter late last month, O'Neil stayed to chat with a reporter 
for a few minutes, before again heading toward his brother's house, he said.
He talked about how his mother died as a result of complications from a 
caesarean section when he was born. He said he lived with his grandmother in 
New York, then moved back to Boston. He never married, and now his main 
hobby seems to be collecting radios.
As he sat with his short legs stretched out, the daytime sun warmed his 
back. He packed his belongings, which included a cellphone, an inhaler, 
purple gloves, some basketball shorts, and black, high-heeled shoes, and 
walked to his cart.
He folded his linen and packed up his many radios. One had a built-in TV, 
there were a few handhelds, and an old boom box.
Then he left.

 Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.