Boston homeless fight back

It’s a fact of life that oppressed communities resist — especially when our survival is at stake.

Seven hundred people in Boston’s homeless and addiction recovery programs were forcibly removed from the city’s Long Island shelter and forced onto the streets and into inadequate temporary shelters on Oct. 7, 2014. Since then, this most marginalized community has fought back. Despite living in the direst of circumstances, 100 of Boston’s homeless and recovering community and their supporters rallied at Boston’s City Hall on Aug. 22 to demand the Long Island shelter be reopened.

Speaker after speaker denounced Mayor Marty Walsh and the Boston Public Health Commission for the disaster that closed down 11 recovery programs and the city’s largest shelter.

Bishop Felipe Teixeira, with the Catholic Church of the Americas, led off the rally, declaring: “This is a corrupt city. If Mayor Walsh were Black, he would be in jail for what he’s done. Give us back Long Island!” Others testified to the incredible injustices that have followed in the wake of the closure.

A farm on the island that was worked by homeless people in recovery and that supplied fresh vegetables for those in shelters was given away recently — by Mayor Walsh through a hidden process — to the B-Good Restaurant chain with a thus-far-unfulfilled assurance that part of the produce would be given to the homeless.

Sara Riegler, assistant director of the farm when it served the homeless and an organizer of the rally, described the farm to rally attendees: “Five to ten people worked the farm and were given job training and permanent beds in the shelter while at the same time producing 25,000 pounds of fresh vegetables every year.”

Cassie Hurd, of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, which called the rally, reminded the ralliers that, as part of Boston’s failed 2020 Olympic bid, Long Island would have been turned into an archery range and stadium by Mayor Walsh.

Oppose privatization

Nino Brown, a leader of Boston’s Mass Action Against Police Brutality, part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, pledged solidarity, saying: “We are opposed to the privatization of public lands and resources. This is no different than what the Boston Public School System is doing in education.”

Aubri Esters and John Leyner, formerly homeless and leaders of the BHSC, spoke movingly of how their lives were transformed by having access to the services available at Long Island. Other speakers brought supporters to the rally, including a delegation from the Cardinal Medeiros Transitional Program for formerly homeless.

Other speakers at the rally included Eli Gerzon from Make GE Pay, Medical Students for Long Island, Grantlee Payne from Serving Our Selves, Michael Kane from the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, Maria Cristina from City Life and this writer from Workers World Party.

The overall housing crisis in Boston is assuming epic proportions. Half of the city’s inhabitants earn less than $35,000 a year. Private developers have the Boston Redevelopment Authority as their government conduit; the authority is only granting building permits for high-rise luxury condos and luxury apartments.

Billions of dollars of global capital are flowing into the coffers of real estate developers and banks, fueling a massive gentrification campaign just as poor people are being forced to move out of the city, move in with relatives or go into shelters with record overcrowding.

Neighborhood groups like “Keep it 100% Egleston” and “Reclaim Roxbury,” from Boston’s Black and Latinx communities, are pushing back against these plans as a matter of survival. Efforts to link the organized homeless citywide will broaden this people’s struggle in the future. The Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee is planning another action for Oct. 7, the two-year anniversary of the closure of Long Island.

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