Noelle Swan

Occupy Boston Protesters Continue to Forge Bonds with the City’s Homeless

Noelle Swan
New England Post
October 24, 2011
 

When asked if he had an apartment in the city, he replied, “I have a tent.”

Barak declined to provide his last name, but instead offered his story. As he told it, a medical condition forced him to give up teaching preschool in Connecticut. He lost his health insurance and was unable to pay for the state’s “affordable health care.” Like many others, he came to Massachusetts as an insurance refugee, hoping to take advantage of the state’s health care system.

Had Barak not moved into the Occupy Boston encampment shortly after protesters settled into Dewey Square outside South Station on September 30, he might be sleeping in one of the city’s overcrowded homeless shelters. Instead, he has found a community that he believes in and can contribute to. “This is one of the only things that got my blood moving,” he said.

The issues of economic inequality highlighted by the Occupy movements occurring around the country resonate strongly within the homeless community. Regardless of how they ended up on the streets, these individuals live at the mercy of the social service system and are the first to feel the sting of cuts to these programs.

Occupy Boston protesters continue to welcome the city’s homeless, despite press reports of increased tension between those choosing to occupy the park and individuals with nowhere else to go.

“There were people living here in this park before we came to live here,” said Barak. “Part of what we’re trying to do is create a safe place for everybody.”

Barak reported that tensions within the camp have little to do with individuals’ housing status. As with any cooperative effort, some participants work harder than others and resentment ensues. “It’s not an issue of homeless or not, but of putting in effort,” he said. “A lot of people work twenty or more hours per day and are hardly getting any sleep.” He said that he contributes to the cause by helping to organize marches and trainings and by carrying donations dropped off at the curb to the appropriate destination.

Homeless individuals have been a part of the occupation since the protesters’ initial meetings on Boston Common in late September. In the first days of the occupation, protesters found themselves with an abundance of bread, which they distributed to the city’s homeless.

Sybil Copp, a clinical researcher from Salem who works at the occupation’s food tent, said that there is more than enough food to go around. “We have what we need to both support people from the movement as well as people utilizing the resources that we have here,” she said while serving baked beans to a steady but patient stream of occupants.

The occupiers have made some connections with established programs designed to help the homeless and hungry. They have donated food surpluses to the Greater Boston Food Bank. The St. Francis House, a local homeless shelter, offered their shower facilities to Occupy Boston protesters.

Alex Ingram, an off-duty service member from Georgia said, “We’re open to anybody in the 99 percent and for the most part everybody is respectful, homeless or not.”

Frank L., an event manager from Beverly who declined to offer his full name, said, “We want homeless people here. We have no problem giving them food and a place to sleep… What we don’t welcome is stealing or using hard drugs.”

A former Marine from New York, who introduced himself as Anthony but said that he goes by Ryno, works on the occupation’s security force. In his rounds, twice he has asked individuals to leave the camp for openly using IV needles. He added, “That goes for anyone. Not just homeless people do drugs.”

Rumors of thefts have circulated throughout the camp and leaked into the press. Boston Police Superintendent William Evans said that protesters have brought thefts to his attention, but so far they have not chosen to file any reports. When asked if he was aware of problems with homeless individuals, he speculated, “I think they are causing problems and crawling into tents.”

Ingram said that theft had not been a bigger problem in the camp than anywhere else. “I think what happens a lot of times is that people freak out a lot and think that something is stolen, when really it’s under a pile somewhere.”

Anthony said that he has not had anything disappear, but has had problems with people piling their stuff up inside his tent. Some protesters put padlocks on their tent zippers. Such precautions underscore that the occupation has taken on more of an air of a small city than that of a commune.

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