Mass. Fire Shows Homeless Problem

Grassroots Media Network (gnn@grassrootsnews.org)
Sat, 11 Dec 1999 18:43:07 -0600


Mass. Fire Shows Homeless Problem

By LESLIE MILLER Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- Julie Ann Barnes was in serious trouble
even before a fight with her 37-year-old boyfriend that
allegedly led to the fire in which six firefighters were killed in
Worcester, Mass.

At 19, the learning-disabled high school dropout was three
months pregnant. She made her home in an abandoned
building, or on a friend's sofa, or in a shelter filled with
hardened substance abusers much older than her.

Now she and her boyfriend are in jail on charges of involuntary
manslaughter.

Advocates for the homeless say Barnes could be a poster child
for the growing population of young adults in Massachusetts
who lack outreach services.

Shelters aren't necessarily the answer, they say.

``You have 18- and 19-year-old young women mixing with
chronic alcoholics. Is that the best we can do in
Massachusetts? I don't think so,'' said Phillip Mangano,
executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter
Alliance.

Mangano's research shows young adults are the fastest growing
segment of the homeless population. In 1997, 840 young adults
came into the commonwealth's emergency shelters, but last
year the figure was up to 1,278.

This year, Mangano projects, more than 2,300 people between
18 and 24 will spend some time in the state's overflowing
homeless shelters.

``This seems to be a throwaway population,'' said Mangano.
``But there's a lot of life left in the 18-, 19- through
24-year-olds, if they're given appropriate resources and
appropriate residential settings in which to be nurtured.''

Barnes and her boyfriend, Thomas S. Levesque, 37, have
pleaded innocent to involuntary manslaughter charges in the
Dec. 3 blaze that claimed the lives of six firefighters in
Worcester, about 45 miles west of Boston. Their bail is set at
$1 million.

Prosecutors allege that the couple knocked over a candle
during an argument in the abandoned warehouse where they
were staying. After trying and failing to extinguish the fire and
save their pets, they fled and did not report the blaze,
prosecutors said.

By Saturday, the remains of five of the firefighters had been
found in the collapsed ruins of the five-story, brick warehouse.
Two of the men became lost in the burning structure while
looking for homeless people they were told may have been
inside. The other four died trying to save them.

Some of the state's homeless do find options.

Kiesha Boyant at the age of 19 was homeless in Boston,
pregnant, and staying with her boyfriend in a shelter where she
was beaten by a schizophrenic resident.

``It was a scary place,'' she said. ``I'm like, `I have to get out of
here.'''

She visited Bridge Over Troubled Waters, one of the
commonwealth's few agencies with services for homeless young
adults.

Bridge isn't a shelter where people can stay overnight, but it
does have a big, clean, bright TV room and facilities where the
homeless can shower, eat, do laundry, and use a computer.

Boyant took computer classes, did an internship, had her baby
and was able to move into a short-term apartment for single
mothers.

Now 21, Boyant hopes to open her own hair salon.

``The real reason a lot of young people like me end up on the
street is because they can't solve problems at home by
themselves,'' she said. ``They either move out or do something
so they get kicked out.''

 AP-NY-12-11-99 1659EST


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