The storyline is a jarring one: Against the backdrop of a bitter cold snap and the persistent problem of homelessness, the city Lawrence was considering rejecting a federal grant of $136,000 to help house those who have been living on the streets.
City Council president Kendrys Vasquez told WBUR earlier this month that he thought the money wouldn’t be enough to solve the city’s problems and that taking it would instead be a signal that would draw more homeless people to the city, already one of the poorest in the state.
“The grant is not sufficient to address the need that we have,” he said. “And by accepting it, we are sending the wrong message throughout the area, throughout the region. Individuals will believe that we have the necessary funds to help everyone.” Vasquez said taking the money would “cost us more in the long term.”
A Globe editorial today rips that view, which it says “perpetuates wrongheaded policies” that believe communities can reduce homelessness by reducing resources to deal with it.
The controversy carries an echo of a debate that erupted more than 15 years ago over public housing in Fall River. In 2001, then-mayor Ed Lambert turned down a $9 million federal grant to rehab a public housing development called Watuppa Heights. Lambert said Fall River had become a magnet for people driven out of Boston by high housing costs. He argued instead for razing the 100-unit development, building 26 units of affordably priced single-family homes on the site and pledged to find housing elsewhere in the city for anyone displaced from the the development.
”It’s simply about fairness,” Lambert told the New York Times at the time. ”It’s simply about the city doing what it needs to do for our poor, our disabled, our elderly, but not being asked to perform that service for other communities. Let them take the $9 million they want to give us for Watuppa Heights and use it to create units in Boston or in other places.”
Affordable housing issues and homelessness are related but certainly not the same issue. As the Times article noted at the time, it was not in dispute that people were fleeing high-cost Boston for Fall River and other places in search of housing. Advocates for the homeless, by contrast, say there is little evidence that this population engages in a similar search for services.
“The vast majority of homeless folks are not navigating their way toward the most lucrative federal grant,” Phil Mangano, who was the “homeless czar” under former president George W. Bush and is currently president of the American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness in Boston, tells the Globe.
The common thread, though, is that communities that already address a heavy burden of social needs, whether it’s through public housing or in serving a large homeless population, often feel that they’re then asked to do more, while other communities get a pass.
In the end, the Lawrence City Council voted earlier this week to accept the grant, but it added the condition that the money could only go to aid those who can show they lived in the city for at least a year before becoming homeless. The Globe editorial says it’s not clear such a provision is legal.
Nevertheless, in WBUR’s report earlier this month, that idea seemed to resonate with Laurie Gleason, a lifelong Lawrencian who recently became homeless for the first time at age 42. “I think the people from Lawrence should get the help before other people,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be mean, but it is what it is.”
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Gov. Charlie Baker said he’s skeptical about creating safe injection sites to stem the opioid crisis. (Associated Press)
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A report commissioned by the US government calls for reducing the drunken driving threshold from a blood alcohol level of .08 percent to .05 percent and hiking alcohol taxes. (Associated Press)
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What to do with the Berkshire Mall, now a ghost of itself, is the focus of an editorial in the Berkshire Eagle.
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Yvonne Abraham says the Hasty Pudding Theatricals all-male cast at Harvard has become a tired act and it’s time to allow women into the shows. (Boston Globe)
Dante Ramos urges Harvard to step up and pledge more funding for a West Station transit hub in Allston, arguing that “transit delayed is transit denied.” (Boston Globe)
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Edward N. Krapels says Massachusetts needs to think bigger on offshore wind. (CommonWealth)
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Dan Kennedy interviews Boston Globe editorial page editor Ellen Clegg. (Nieman Journalism Lab)
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