What Lawrence Doesn’t Need…. More Poverty Pimps!


By: Tom Duggan – November, 2005

cityhall4saleWith 80,000 plus people crammed into six square miles, Lawrence has been a very attractive (and profitable) place for poverty pimps to ply their trade: mainly, strong-arming local officials to give them government money for their so-called non profit organizations.

Of course, these poverty pimps pretend that their goal is a noble one. They talk of the critical need to help poor people and provide housing for those less fortunate. But, if you take a look at who these individuals are, and more importantly where they live, it becomes crystal clear that their aim is to help themselves and their organizations inflate their budgets while very few poor people ever get the help they really need.

Dollar for dollar, the money spent on poverty programs and low income housing in Lawrence over the last fifteen years could have fed, housed and clothed every man woman and child in the city.

The goal of the poverty pimp is not to eradicate poverty, it is to take advantage and make money on it. The goal is to drain the number of poor people from the suburbs  into cities like Lawrence, Lowell and Haverhill.

You almost never see the heads of organizations like Lawrence Community Works or Lazarus House fighting for a homeless shelter for people with HIV/AIDS in Andover, Derr, New Hampshire or Boxford. You almost never hear of these so-called non profits trying to build massive low income housing units, methadone clinics, half-way houses or drug assistance programs in their own lily-white home towns.

The reason for this, they say, is because Lawrence is where the need is.

But why is the need so great in Lawrence?

After evaluating years of poverty programs being dumped into Lawrence, the answer is clear: people who are “low income”, people with drug problems, people with psychological problems and those who simply want a free ride, will always go where the services are located.

What has happened here is the creation of a perpetual cycle of poverty. The more poor people who are crammed into one location, the greater the need for poverty programs in that location. The greater the need, the more programs that are supposedly needed. And who provides the additional services for this increasing need?

Why, the poverty pimps, of course. It’s quite a racket.

Poverty and homelessness in a city like Lawrence are never reduced, much less eradicated. Just look at the increase in poverty in Lawrence after hundreds of millions have been pumped into the city over the last 30 years. 

 The attraction of more “low income” people means an influx of children to an already overcrowded school system. More “low income” people means a bigger drain on the city budget, more need for drug and alcohol assistance, welfare, government-funded heating assistance, low income housing, and let’s call it like it is, more crime.

This leads to the devaluation of our neighborhoods.

 That’s why people in Andover and North Andover fight so hard to keep out 40B construction projects (the state law that allows developers to build low income housing without approval by local zoning and planning boards). It isn’t because of racism or snobbery (40B has been called the anti-snob law by poverty pimps); it’s because nobody wants to see his or her neighborhood go to hell, plain and simple.

 But if you try to question the long term effects of these poverty programs on a city like Lawrence, you will either be called a racist, a hate monger or you will be lectured about how insensitive you are to the plight of poor people. You will be told heart-breaking stories of children with no arms and no feet who have to eat cockroaches off the floor of a burned-out building just to survive (and of course, it is all your fault).

 What they will not tell you is how much money the poverty pimps are making as the heads of these so-called non profits. What they will not tell you is that Lawrence is more than three times over the state-mandated percentage of low income housing. What they will not tell you is that Lawrence does NOT have a low income housing crisis.

 Just look at what is about to happen on Myrtle Court where Lazarus House is trying to build what they are laughingly calling “transitional housing” for people with AIDS. The rhetoric is beyond hysterical! According to literature put out by Lazarus House and Project Hope (ooooh that makes you feel good, doesn’t it?), the City of Lawrence has set 2012 as the year by which chronic homelessness will no longer exist in the city.

 Simply put, give them more money and grant them special exemptions to local zoning and planning regulations and “viola!” – homelessness will be completely eradicated in seven years. Can anyone with a single brain cell truly argue that building an AIDS house on Myrtle Court will actually result in the total elimination of homelessness in Lawrence?

 What’s more, the proposed project will cost $560,000 each year to operate.

Bridget Shaheen, Executive Director of Lazarus House, Inc., told the Zoning Board last August that the 20 housing units will have a “significant educational component for persons who have successfully completed the Shelter Program at Lazarus House.” Participants will be immersed in mandatory, comprehensive educational programs designed to teach them job training and job hunting skills, budgeting and planning, nutrition, parenting, and other life skills to prepare them for re-integration into the larger community.

Who do you think is gong to pay for that?

And, in the meantime, what will these people with no life skills be doing to the neighborhood around Myrtle Court? You can bet that children will be finding more dirty needles in their parks, crime will dramatically increase, drug traffic will spill over to other neighborhoods and the hard-working taxpayers will pay more for a lower quality of life in the city.

 Can anyone say that the neighborhoods of Lawrence are safer or better off since the state, federal government and so-called non profits have had their way? Has the methadone clinic on Canal Street decreased the drug traffic on Broadway? Have the dozens of half-way houses scattered throughout the city made Lawrence any more safe?

 If there is any one place in Massachusetts that doesn’t need more “affordable” or “low income” housing, it is the city of Lawrence. And there is something else we need less of in Lawrence: poverty pimps who get rich on the good intentions and personal misfortunes of the people who are already struggling to get by every day.