Bad news all around for homeless people in Springfield today: a man has died and the state has made a decision which could lead to the deaths-- and will certainly lead to the misery-- of more homeless people.
A homeless man was found dead on a park bench in Riverfront Park today. The police don't believe foul play was involved. He was 46 years old and his name is not being released until his family can be notified.
"Whoever he is, I know him," my sister said, already mourning, just not knowing for whom. She works at the Warming Place shelter.
Now the other bad news: as of June 30, the Warming Place shelter will no longer be funded by the state, the city of Springfield can evict the program, and then the city will demolish the old jail that's been the Warming Place's home since September, 2005.
When the numbers of the homeless clash with the politics of the city, the homeless lose.
The contract to provide 85 beds for the homeless which has been the Open Pantry's (the Warming Place's parent) for the last three years will go instead to the Friends of the Homeless. Problem is, only 54 beds will be new; the rest of the contract will be used to pay for beds. F. O. H. provides but isn't paid for. Seeing as the Warming Place has been sheltering about 100 people a night, 46 will be left without shelter. Over at F.O.H. half of the 54 people will be housed in the basement and half in the room that is usually the soup kitchen for the shelter. And the rest? And anyone new who becomes homeless? The city says it'll have some housing vouchers available in September, if they can find landlords.
What a mess. Gerry McCafferty, the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing Coordinator, recently admitted at a meeting I was at that the city intends to have "no excess capacity" in shelter beds. So it seems like the city's plan is moving right along.
For years, through every administration I can remember, the city has rejected affordable housing and neglected the homeless. For years the Friends of the Homeless was run by the crook Frannie Keough and everybody knew it but nothing was done until the F.B.I. stepped in.
That history began to change when only a few days into Mayor Ryan's first term, a homeless man froze to death on the steps of Symphony Hall. It has not been all uphill-- Sanctuary City, a tent city run by the homeless with others helping, filled a six month shelter gap-- but once the city began its Ten Year Planning Process, there was a chance for continued, small gains.
Now I believe that Mayor Ryan and those who work for him have manipulated the process and the outcome every step of the way. At least one of their goals is to eliminate the Warming Place shelter because its director, Kevin Noonan, has been unfailingly faithful to sheltering the homeless. That makes him a radical and radicals are not wanted in Springfield.
The end of this chapter is marked by another death.