As many of us sit down to bountiful Thanksgiving dinners, it’s all too easy to forget about the more than 17,000 homeless people in the midst of well-off Massachusetts. We have the seventh highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. This, in the state ranked to have one of the highest GDP per capita income rates in the nation, second only to New York in average income. And, by the way, Massachusetts legislators have the fifth highest salary of any full-time legislature in the nation. Which makes it all the more despicable that last week the Massachusetts legislature left Beacon Hill for a six-week holiday vacation without finishing work on Governor Healey’s request for a $250 million supplementary appropriation to address our homeless crisis.
One can debate the practicalities of Massachusetts one-and-only right-to-shelter law. It doesn’t matter. Our emergency shelters are bursting at the seams with 7500 homeless families, and now there are waiting lists! Advocates are scrambling to find places for fellow human beings to put their heads on these increasingly cold nights. Some were sent to Logan Airport, which then directed them to go to South Station. And Bay Staters mock San Francisco for the homeless sleeping on their streets!
Yes, our problem is exacerbated by new waves of migrants to Massachusetts (about half the current homeless population, according to the state.) We are also informed that the state is working with the Department of Homeland Security to get work permits for the newcomers. We also have a housing problem. From apartment rentals to home purchases, costs are off the charts. New state legislation – e.g., the MBTA Communities Act – will help that. But that doesn’t address the lack of emergency shelters today.
The House has one version of the $250 million emergency appropriation, which Governor Healey requested at least a month ago. The Senate has another. The House specifies where different chunks of the appropriation should go, including staffing, clinical services, and school support for newcomers assigned to new schools. The Senate leaves the targeting of those dollars up to the Healey administration.
Come on, folks. Do the job you’re paid to do! This isn’t settling the quest for peace in the Middle East. You in the the Massachusetts legislature should go back into session on the Monday after this Thanksgiving weekend. You can work out a compromise between the two bills. Your lack of empathy is shameful.
While many of us Bay Staters claim honors of progressive enlightenment, families are left to fend for themselves, in cars, transit centers, institutional doorways, and public parks. Think about that every bite of turkey and stuffing you take around the Thanksgiving table this Thursday. Better still, call your senators and representatives and insist they return to Beacon Hill and not take any further vacation for themselves till they have provided for the homeless in desperate need.