Saturday, December 8, 2007

Shelter stories - December 8th

First of all I am humbled by the generous support being shown to my family from strangers on the net. I will be in contact by email to those who have offered support. I can not thank you enough.

As I posted yesterday my 14 day bed at the Harvard Square shelter expired yesterday and I must wait 7 days to re-apply. I can call at 9:30 PM to see if they have a one night bed. For the next 2 nights I can sleep on a friends couch if need be. He lives in a Cambridge Housing building on Mt Auburn St that is owned by Harvard. He is not allowed to have somebody overnight on a regular basis but a day here and there they do not mind. This helps as many of the other shelters do not do intake on weekends so options become even more limited. At least I am secure until Monday morning.

I just want to tell you about 2 people I have met at the shelter.

A young woman with a 12 month old son finally got a motel room from the state yesterday. She had been living at the shelter and her baby was being cared for by the state. The woman had been in grad school at Harvard but things just fell apart when she got pregnant. Hopefully now things will start getting better for her.

Over the summer and fall I became friends with a man who has been living on the streets a long time. You can find him most days at Au Bon Pain at Harvard especially after 6 PM where he sits with his radio and listens to sports. The years on the streets have taken a toll on him and he is now 62. He moved to Boston in the early 60's from Maine and lived in a room in Davis Sq until 1988 when the rooming house owner cashed in on the real estate boom the subway brought to Somerville. He has lived on the streets ever since. This man has survived by collecting cans and that is hard work as it may take 8 or more hours to collect enough cans to make $20-40 a day. Each can is only a nickle so just do the math. However he now has trouble walking and can not can anymore and now has been forced to 'stem' in the square with a paper cup. He is not a daily drinker and in fact I have only seen him drink once in the months that I have known him. The truth is he is very sick and he needs to be seen by a doctor now.

He lost his ID years ago and he needs his birth certificate so he can get a state ID and social security card. He thought he needed to go to Maine for it but I found out today that we can order it online for $15.

We found out he can use the shelter address for mail so hopefully we can get this done. He is a good man, just a stubborn 'Maniac'.

Still he is a prime example on how the housing market in Cambridge/Somerville has changed the past 20 years. There used to be numerous rooming houses in the Dana Hill, Central Square and Davis areas but property values skyrocketed. 20 years ago the area of Mass Avenue between Harvard and Central was not upscale. There were cab companies, gas stations, Mom and Pop stores all along the avenue. Rooming houses were on Dana St, Clinton St and Magazine where people could simply rent a room. Those days are gone. Another factor was rent-control being abolished in the 1990's. The rent control zealots wanted nothing to change but the Cambridge rent control board was still setting rates based on 1969 20 years later. It wasn't fair to the property owners but the zealots refused to find middle ground like they did in Manhattan where people who were in a rent control building could stay but if they moved the landlord could then charge market rate. The elimination of rent control in Cambridge, Boston and Brookline have had a devastating toll on people living from paycheck to paycheck. In Cambridge the problem is compounded by so many units now owned by Harvard and only made available to Harvard affiliates. Harvard does own 3 buildings that they let the city use for elderly and disabled persons but it is just a drop in the bucket.

I don't pretend to have an answer to the problem but something has to be done as things are only getting worse.

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