Is Permanent Supported Housing the Best we can do?
To the Editor,
This week, the City of Boston announced new federal funding of $16.5 to be used in the war against homelessness. (Boston Globe, 5/4/23: “Mayor Wu announces $16.5 million in federal funds to help homeless people.” By Danny McDonald) Last week, our city received $42 million in grants, also earmarked to tackle this humanitarian crisis. As we allocate this money, I hope we are challenging and improving our homeless policies at the state and local levels.
Every week we read about another hotel or motel, emptied during the pandemic, now being repurposed for housing for the homeless—specifically permanent, supportive housing. In Charlestown, this hotel is the YMCA’s Constitution Inn; proposed to become the Helm; with the St. Francis House and POUA at the possible receiving end of the transaction.
Permanent supportive housing is a specific housing concept —one without preconditions for treatment of addiction, substance abuse, mental illness or other behavioral issues. The problem is that the majority of homeless people—somewhere between 50% and 90% depending on the study, continue to use drugs and alcohol with a roof over their head. Given the complex causes of homelessness, without treatment many return to the streets.
While onsite services are available in the permanent supported housing model, the number of employees and their job functions are structured differently than in a treatment facility. Residents may be in all different states of substance abuse, with some wanting to get clean. We all know someone struggling with addiction or mental illness, and the herculean effort it takes to make progress. Imagine the pain and anxiety of drug withdrawal, if one is located to next door to a drug user. This is a nightmare scenario, preventing any step towards independence, social inclusion, or health.
Charlestown is a prime example of how compassionate people with good intentions can present the Helm- resulting in less than 5% neighborhood support. Before the word NIMBY is even whispered, it is important to understand “WHY” this small, historic, family-filled neighborhood is galvanized against the Helm concept.
Out of 25 Boston neighborhoods, 40% of income restricted housing is clustered in just five–Charlestown being one of them. We have a citywide homeless problem, yet only 20% of neighborhoods exceed the city’s need for income restrictive housing. And, with just 20,000 residents, Charlestown’s transportation is limited, as is healthcare access, infrastructure, and jobs. What is the criteria for the city choosing this neighborhood–or any neighborhood– beyond an empty building?
The real issue extends beyond Charlestown, and is as simple as it is basic. It’s about the drugs, and the “in your face” evidence of their use. What neighborhood in their right mind is welcoming drug users and drug dealers? Fentanyl and opioid addictions are rampant, and deadly. Whatever side of the harm reduction strategy you support, the reality is that users buy drugs—now indirectly with subsidy monies– dealers sell them drugs, and in a resident setting of 150 people—drug use is inescapable. There will be needles outside.
In order to work together to help the homeless, those who manage any home must not endanger any neighborhood. Ironically, substance abuse and the resulting cost of it, is one of the causes of homelessness. It’s important to make data-driven decisions, adding accountability for the funding that is tied to results. Perhaps this latest financial influx will encourage strategic review, and the change management that will drive healthier outcomes. Perhaps this funding can be targeted to prosecuting drug dealers, and increasing treatment outreach and incentives.
Charlestown citizens and officials want a moratorium on this proposed sale. Gabriela Coletta, Dan Ryan, Michael Flaherty, and Erin Murphy, our elected officials, are calling for a return to the drawing board on the Helm proposal. 95% of those surveyed, agree. Charlestown has been fighting its’ own drug war for years. Does anyone have the right to make it even harder for our town to get clean?
We are empathetic to all who need a “safe harbor” in Mayor Wu’s words. This can occur without damaging our community. Federal funds come from us, and the policies they fund must be effective. It is time to rethink how we define the cure, and not spread the disease.
We have an incredibly innovative city, with exceptional health care—two of Boston’s strongest attributes. If we can do better, why wouldn’t we?
Charlestown resident since 1991
Victory for the People of Boston
To the Editor,
Judge Saris’s ruling is a victory for transparency, accountability, and the people of the City of Boston. The United States District Court identified a deeply flawed process, and I welcome the opportunity to join my colleagues in rewriting more equitable voting districts that protect our constituents’ Constitutional rights. I pledge to work collegially and in good faith with my colleagues to do right by our residents, our neighborhoods, and our Constitutional oaths of office.
The map that the Council approved, over my objections and those of three other councilors, unfairly divided neighborhoods. As I’ve said before, we should not compound the mistakes of the past by making new ones. And a process as important to our democracy as the right to vote, as protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, should be conducted openly and without concealed agendas.
I’m going to work to ensure that the people’s voices are heard as this process moves forward, and that the City Council brings this out from behind closed doors and into the sunlight Bostonians – all of us – deserve.
Erin J. Murphy
At Large Boston