With snow and bitter cold blanketing the city, local churches are opening new daytime shelters for the homeless who left Boston Harbor's Long Island. WGBH Radio’s Anne Mostue brings us this story on the continuing response to the city's homeless crisis.
It’s a weekday morning in the basement of Old South Church in Copley Square. About 50 people are sitting on couches and chairs, chatting and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A 53-year-old man named John is reading a novel.
“I’ve been coming here for about 2 weeks, since it opened. It’s terrific. Because of the heat and the food and the cots.”
A woman named Denise eyes six cots covered with wool blankets. They’re behind a curtain in the back of the room.
“They’re wonderful. I came in yesterday and I was tired, but I ended up sleeping for like 4 hours in the back. It was really nice. I haven’t been able to do that since I’ve been in this position.”
Denise says she’s been homeless since Christmas, and that it’s hard to sleep in an overnight shelter. But the atmosphere here is pleasant, quiet even. This is one of two warming shelters in the city – the other’s at Emmanuel Church. They’re open to anyone who needs to come in from the cold, but they’re closed at night. Reverend Kate Layzer of Cambridge is a volunteer.
“People appreciate that it’s peaceful, it’s not crazy. Mostly they appreciate that this is a place where they come and are completely respected and valued and cherished.”
Layzer acknowledges that the mayor and his administration are working to replace the beds, programs and services that were lost when Long Island was evacuated in October. But she says Boston’s religious leaders felt compelled to organize and step in.
“This is the middle of winter, and we’re in the middle of a heroine epidemic, and we need beds and treatment programs and services and support now, not later, right now.”
This warming shelters provides something else that’s hard to find: lockers. Visitors may rent a large trunk, for free, through the end of March.
“It makes a huge difference to people to be able to leave their stuff and walk away. They can get a job interview. They can go out in public without looking visibly homeless. They can get some rest from their aching backs. It’s a huge literally load off people’s back to be able to store their stuff.”
For many of these people, homelessness is a temporary situation. John, a former Long Island resident, says nights on the street or in shelters always feel uncertain.
“It’s very difficult. It’s tough. A lot of very tough people who want to make trouble. And dealing with people like that, the staff are not that pleasant.”
He says that’s why he appreciates the friendliness, and reliability, of a day shelter.
Music bed: Joni Mitchell “Come In From The Cold”