MA homeless advocates question arrests in Worcester warehouse

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 8 Dec 1999 18:51:31 -0800 (PST)


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My heart goes out to the survivors of the 6 firefighters who gave their
lives searching a burning warehouse because they thought homeless squatters
were still inside.  Still, I ask, to compare with the events described
below:

If an affluent couple tipped over candles while dining in a highrise condo
they owend, and firefighters died trying to put out the resulting fire,
would the middle class couple have been arrested and jailed, with bail set
at $1,000,000?

http://newsfinder.arinet.com/fpweb/fp.dll/$stargeneral/htm/x_dv.htm/_ibyx/cg0302
6/_itox/starnet/_svc/news/_Id/627775200/_k/PUoELxWkoK0P35DS
FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Dec 07, 1999 17:00

PEOPLE SERVING HOMELESS REACT TO ARRESTS IN WORCESTER FIRE

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) _ The word spread quickly among the
homeless community that a homeless couple had been charged Tuesday
with manslaughter in the deaths of six Worcester firefighters.

``The idea of arresting them and holding them on $1 million bail
as if they would intentionally hurt something is just amazing,''
said Nicole Witherbee, policy coordinator for the Massachusetts
Coalition for the Homeless.

The six firefighters died in a warehouse blaze that prosecutors
say was ignited when the couple knocked over a candle during an
argument.

Thomas S. Levesque, 37, and Julie S. Barnes, 19, had been living
together on the second floor of the abandoned warehouse for several
months, according to District Attorney John J. Conte.

The candle lit clothing, then spread to papers, Conte said. They
tried to extinguish the fire, but fled after failing to rescue
their dog and cat, Conte said.

Levesque is being held at the Worcester House of Correction and
Barnes at MCI-Framingham, each on $1 million bail.

``Society needs to blame it on someone and the homeless people
are an easy target,'' said Melissa Swain, an Americorps volunteer
working at Project Hope a family shelter in the Dorchester
neighborhood of Boston.

It's just one more example of criminalizing homelessness, said
Witherbee.

``We make laws all the time, they can't panhandle, they can't
loiter, we don't have enough shelter beds, so when they go into
abandoned buildings it's trespassing,'' she said. ``So where is it
they're supposed to be?''

Homeless advocates say shelters overflowed in Worcester even
during the summer this year, as they did throughout the state. The
city's shelters can accommodate an estimated 550 people, but at any
given time another 550 homeless people cannot get into the
shelters.

Soon after the news broke Tuesday that Levesque and Barnes had
been arrested, a shelter worker walked into the Friendly House
Shelter and said, ``A homeless couple of people were arrested.
Somebody's running away from the cold.''

``That's such a big stain on the homeless people,'' said Luisa
Carreiro, director of Friendly House Shelter. She said there are
many different types of homeless people.

``Some people don't like to live under certain rules, they like
to be by themselves,'' she said. ``There's a lot of mental illness
out there too.''

``The homeless name attached to that, I feel bad. I feel so, so
terrible for the firemen and the families. It breaks my heart. I
feel so bad for those wives and children.''

AP-ES-12-07-99 1759EST
Received  Id AP99341B22FD272 on Dec 08 1999 16:56

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