In discussions concerning homelessness, and many other issues of social injustice for that matter, the humanity of the problems at hand can often become clouded by the facelessness of statistics and research findings. Quantitative data holds undeniable importance when it comes to understanding the large extent to which Boston has insufficient resources for homeless people.
The Long Island shelter was closed in October of 2014, a few months before New England was hit with a record-breaking winter. News outlets and other sources explained the effect of the city’s failure to replace all the services that once existed on Long Island in terms of “demand for beds,” using the term “recovery beds” to refer to spaces reserved for individuals fighting addiction. Framed in this technical manner, the discourse surrounding homeless people paints a broad picture of the numerical scale of the issue, while not doing much to dispel the presumed anonymity of the people affected by the shelter’s closing, and by the dearth of facilities for homeless people in Boston in general.
The 700 people who were displaced from Long Island represent more than bars on a graph. They represent 700 distinct collections of experiences and personalities, people grappling with debt, addiction, and many other circumstances which invariably led them to that point, circumstances that could just as easily have occurred in the lives of anyone else. They are among the tens of thousands of individuals concerned with the next source of food and warmth, and with the prospect of leaving the transience of homelessness behind for a more stable situation in the face of a society that often places the blame of their current situation on their own supposed vices and poor decisions.
Figures and statistics can be overwhelming, but the media, public officials and policymakers aren’t completely to blame for the impersonal way those who are fortunate enough to have housing tend to interact with homelessness, if we choose to interact with it at all. With temperatures declining and another winter looming over the region, it’s crucial to be mindful of the fact that we have neighbors who have a new set of worries to consider with the arrival of cold weather. Many are trapped in a cyclical process of bureaucracy, with the search for temporary protection from the elements, employment and permanent housing all rendered almost impossible by the absence of a fixed address.
In engaging with the issue of homelessness, it’s important to recognize that its roots lie in systemic inequality and injustice. Haley House is an example of an organization that is not only working to alleviate the day-to-day suffering of homeless people but is also trying to address this inequality on the level of community involvement and social enterprise. With a variety of innovative projects including an affordable housing initiative in South Boston, soup kitchen, food pantry and the Bakery Café among others, Haley House is dedicated to the promotion of the physical, economic and social well-being of the community. You can find out more about the organization here.