Letters to the Editor

Compassion and Common Sense               

To the Editor,

Charlestown has been my home for over 30 years. I belong to the YMCA, and served on their board. After studying the latest proposal for the Independence, a combination of affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing PSH).  I am strongly opposed.

 Michael Coughlin’s article (October 26, Charlestown Patriot Bridge), the BPDA’s zoom call, and its’ chat thread, were part of the process. Speaking with the YMCA CEO, David Shapiro, reading “Rough Sleepers” – (a profile of Dr. Jim O’Connell-a homeless advocate)- and meeting his counterpart, Dr. Gerry Angoff—all of this information has been invaluable.  Equally important are the heart-wrenching stories from Charlestown residents who are in recovery from substance use. Public police records document crime statistics at current PSH homes and the related shelter. Two Boylston street addresses are managed by the proponents– the Saint Francis House and Public Office of Urban Affairs.

Embracing a data-driven approach has produced some clarity on this subject. More importantly, it has deepened my compassion for the homeless; providing some understanding of their complex medical needs.

The public comment stage of the Article 80 process ended October 30. As Michael Coughlin stated; the Independence proposal is “polarizing.” In the minority are kind-hearted people who want to provide “low threshold” housing for the homeless. They believe that substance users and those suffering from trauma are likely to accept optional treatment services. Some supporters’ live miles away from Charlestown, so their position will not personally affect them.

Other equally kind-hearted people disagree with this approach. Based upon two recent surveys, an average of 80% are opposed to the Independence, or skeptical at the very least.  It is notable that the BPDA call attendance would have exceeded the 200+ mark had there been more notice of the date; showing the intense interest in our community.   Treating substance users prior to housing sets a higher standard, and is gaining traction.  Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker, during last week’s meeting on Mass and Cass, stated “It has to be treatment first” before receiving housing. Many neighbors agree. And we all agree that homeless people deserve a chance.

There are 850+ signatures in opposition on a Change.org petition, and numerous public officials calling for a return to the drawing board, or to “Treatment first.”. Others are dismissive, branding their neighbors as “NIMBY”.  That label hinders productive dialog, which would result in better outcomes.  Even with the revised, lowered resident count and shift to women and veterans, the Independence concept is poorly suited to Charlestown, and vice-versa.

  In PSH, the lack of required treatment perpetuates ongoing substance use:  from 50% (Source: The Saint Francis House Knights of Columbus meeting) to 90% (Source: a published study by Dr. O’Connell).  The publically available police incident reports for PSH only housing, and PSH plus shelter housing, are alarming. The amount of disruption, drug use, and crime impacts Boylston Street residents and its’ businesses. In fact, police calls are exponentially higher there than in Charlestown. Even excluding the shelter’s continual activity, there are frequent incidents; some minor, more are dangerous.  Past performance of PSH locations predicts future conditions.  The number of police incident reports in PSH housing is incompatible with a tightly managed facility.

The proponents have yet to communicate their drug policies. By definition, PSH allows substance use; but it is unknown which drugs are allowed or how they will be acquired or distributed. Dan Linskey, Managing Director of Boston’s Kroll Security and former Superintendent-in- Chief in the Boston police, stated that there would be “No allowed drug use in the building”, and no smoking either. When asked for clarification, he responded he would make certain he had the right information. After a year of evolving proposals, these policies should be readily available.  Charlestown neighbors are connected to one or more of our 300 overdose victims.  Medically assisted treatment or harm reduction strategies belong in medical facilities., not the Independence. Not in Charlestown.

We are all for affordable housing without PSH. Charlestown has a 25% penetration of income restricted housing —one of Boston’s highest. Affordable housing is a tool to fight homelessness. Other Boston neighborhoods need to step up.

We are a tourist driven, historic neighborhood, now charged with the unpopular and mind-blowing over-development of Plan Charlestown. While the BPDA mission of inclusion feels disingenuous at this time; the aggressive growth plan necessitates a hotel and workforce lodging. A reissued RFP may source a hotel, or workforce housing for those being priced out of Charlestown. Either would generate revenue for addiction treatment, veteran and trauma services.  It is time for the BPDA to be accountable to our community, and not the developers.

There is much at stake here. We understand what Charlestown can, and cannot support.  It’s not about accepting the Independence; it is the wrong concept. Homeless people need more, and they need it in a medically supportive location, with a robust infrastructure. Accomplishing that goal would combine compassion with common sense.

Tracy Iannelli

Halloween 2023 Thank You

To the Editor,

With appreciation to the Charlestown Community for a safe, fun and memorable 38th Annual Monument Square Halloween Parade & Trick or Treat. We are grateful to all the generous supporters, partners, donors and volunteers: National Park Service, Superintendent Michael Creasey, Commanding Officer USS Constitution – BJ Farrell, City of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, NPS Supervisory Ranger Ethan Beeler, City of Boston Police, City of Boston Transportation, City of Boston Special Events, City of Boston Mayor Liason-Sean Breen, Ann Kelleher, Arthur Colpack, Bunker Hill Associates, Cambridge Savings Bank, Charlestown Dental Care, Charlestown Marina, Charlestown Mothers Association, Christ Church Charlestown, Dana Hefner, Diversified Auto, Dominic Doyle, Duncan Donahue, DUNKIN, Ed and Marcia Katz, Elissa Ladd, Frank Celeste, George Georges, Harvest on Vine, Kathy & Michale Litel, James Duane, The Monument Square Wizard, Jay Farraher, Jen & Paul Hughes, John Conforti and Alex Cook, John Lee, Larry Rinaldi, Logan Condo Association, Love Dog Band, Lydia Jane Anderson, Marjorie Wallens, Mary Byrne, MASSPORT, MGH Filene Nurses, Michelle Duane, Mitch Mirabito and Brooke Hartman, Molly Nolan, New England Development/ Bunker Hill Mall, Paul Revere, Michael LePage, Richard Johnston, Rosemary Kverek/Mother Goose, Rosemary Macero, Ryan Murphy- DJ, Tatte, Toby Goldstein, Tom Fortier, Tom Mosel, Tony Barrie Marching Band, USS Constitution Sailors, Whole Foods. 

May all enjoy the magic of Halloween in Charlestown for another year, 

Diane Valle, Chair 

38th Annual Monument Square 

Halloween Parade &

Trick or Treat

An Instrumental Part of Charlestown

To the Editor,

In the last issue of the Charlestown Coalition newsletter, we acknowledged that our previous Director, Sarah Coughlin, LICSW, was appointed to the Massachusetts Parole Board. It is with mixed emotions that I announce that Sarah will be leaving her position at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her last day of employment is on Friday, November 3, 2023. 

Many of you know firsthand of Sarah’s dedication and tireless commitment to the Charlestown community. She served Charlestown for 12 years as the Youth Prevention Director, and then the Charlestown Coalition Director. During that time, Sarah created the Turn It Around youth program, supported people in recovery and advocated for initiatives such as the Charlestown Recovery Court, MGH Recovery Coaches, and the Alternative to Suspension Program at Charlestown High School. She continued to support youth and their families in the community while supervising the Family Support Circle initiative, which ensures that families gain access to mental health services.

In the face of tragedy, Sarah has shown up for the Charlestown community with empathy and without judgment, while responding to the communities’ needs in the moment. As a result, the Charlestown Trauma Response team was formed and continues to provide support throughout the community. Sarah’s contributions to Charlestown have been remarkable and her impact has touched the lives of so many.

Sarah is best known for her compassion, her sense of fairness, her conviction, and her ability to get things done in a pinch. She has been an instrumental part of the Charlestown community. Although her presence will be missed, her impact and essence are still felt within the Coalition. We wish Sarah all the best as she embarks on her new role at the Massachusetts Parole Board and we look forward to what she accomplishes in this next stage of her career. 


Phenice Zawatsky, LICSW

Charlestown Coalition Director

We Are Not Alone

To the Editor,

Having recently attended a hearing called by City Councilor Julia Mejia at City Hall regarding neighborhood satisfaction with their various interactions with the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), we were taken aback with the attendance of many city-wide constituents who brought their concerns to be heard in the City Hall chambers.  The main complaints were that the BPDA does not listen to Boston residents, and then votes to approve massive projects in favor of developers, without infrastructure improvements, and despite the negative impacts on the environment and the residents, despite overwhelming community opposition, in each neighborhood.

In the Charlestown community, Mayor Wu and the BPDA have tuned us out.  We learned at this City Hall meeting that other neighborhoods are also ignored. Our complaints that “no one is listening” was echoed and validated by community leaders across the city who share our experience. We are not alone.

We share with other neighborhoods the common refrain “We want in person meetings so the community can have true public meetings” so that we are not muted, cut off, cut short, or intimidated by those who do not live in our community or have been solicited to support the developer. Each neighborhood is opposed to spot zoning, of massive, out of scale multi- unit buildings which transform the fabric of the neighborhoods.

Across the city, residents call for the preservation, protection, and enhancement of their environment yet tree canopies are destroyed, greenspace is reduced, and heat islands are expanded with massive buildings, creating more heat islands. We are all acutely aware that the climate crisis is now.  Is the BPDA aware?

Increased density is approved by the BPDA with no plan for infrastructure improvements, as they make false promises that the MBTA (which the BPDA has no control over) will accommodate the doubling size of communities. 

Ford Cavallari who represents the Alliance of Downtown Civic Organizations stated that the BPDA rams through projects, “to do what the BPDA does best, which is to create more billionaires rather than creating more affordable housing.”  He stated “The BRA cannot reform itself. It should not control the Article 80 Steering Committee or the two consulting teams that are engaged to “reform.”  He stated “it makes no sense at all.”  He said “we must be mindful of Zoning cheats and lavish tax giveaways” to 10 times the amount in tax abatements to developers.

City Councilor Gabriella Coletta testified the BPDA process is “Death by a 1000 paper cuts” and recently opposed Plan Charlestown, after the BPDA and Zoning Commission approval of Plan Charlestown, despite four and half years of sustained community opposition to it.

Mayor Wu said she will abolish the BPDA and she is doing the exact opposite. BPDA Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison and Deputy Chief Devin Quirk did not appear to defend their “plans.”  Instead, Aimee Chambers, Director of Planning, who is a Boston resident of 10 months, along with Kristiana Lachiusa, Deputy Director of Community Engagement who is a Boston resident of 4 months, attempted to justify what the communities oppose.

It is time the residents of Charlestown and Boston are heard. We are not alone, the meeting validated our concerns and now working with all of Boston is the next step in this ongoing endeavor to right what has been wronged.

Call 617.635.6500, email [email protected] and voice your support of community members across the city who stand for the well-being of each of us. We all matter. 

Diane Valle

Ann Kelleher

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