When faced with a growing homeless population, officials in the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts have literally done nothing in the last 8 years to help feed, clothe, house, or assist the homeless in any way.
Instead, Lawrence has been bulldozing tents, taking what few possessions the homeless have, throwing a non-profit out of the Buckley Garage that was feeding the homeless, harassing homeless advocacy groups, and sitting on the sidelines pretending Lawrence doesn’t have a homeless problem.
To the contrary, when the state put up dozens of homeless people at the Days Inn in Methuen, Mayor Perry and the city council didn’t do what Lawrence did.
The Methuen Mayor and council, while acknowledging the challenges and additional costs of helping the homeless, balked at the idea of trying to shut down the hotel and the program and calling it a day.
Councilor Simard – a hero Lawrence Police Officer – expressed his frustration for the neighbors of the Days Inn on Pelham Street, but also followed up by saying that the city ought to be able to work with officials at the state level to try and service the homeless while also addressing the problems that come with trying to help such a volatile population.
“I can’t think of a better reason to have a shelter there run by the state for people who are homeless,” Simard said. Councilors Finocchiaro and Beauregard also said that they believed helping the homeless was “a good thing” not a bad thing.
Mayor Perry agreed. “I’m all for helping the homeless, I’m all for helping anybody for any reason, but the [40%] increase in (police) calls is costing the city more money,” Perry said.
Perry added he would be having conversations with state officials to find a way to address both the issue of serving the homeless, as well as the increase cost to the city addressing the public safety calls going to the Days Inn.
We would suggest two possible solutions for Methuen officials who are trying to navigate this very complex problem.
First, when state officials give grants to local hotels to house the homeless, they ought to include a stipend for the host community to pay for a police officer to be on the property, so that cops are not being diverted from emergency calls whenever a dispute occurs at that location.
Second: there should be money included in these grants to help homeless people get transitional housing and put them on the path to changing their lives, so they don’t go back on the streets.
In fact, we believe that local hotels – which are hurting for the business – could be a permanent location for transitional housing for people down on their luck.
We have long chastised the City of Lawrence for refusing to help the homeless while denying the problem even exists. We also believe it’s important to applaud those communities who take this problem seriously and are trying to find creative ways to address the immediate, as well as the long-term problem of homelessness in the valley.
Lawrence has it all wrong.
Methuen has it right.
You can’t solve the problem without trying. ◊