Plight of the Homeless

According to Wikipedia, there were “643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons” in the United States in January 2009. I tried to do a similar search for Boston, but didn’t find the statistic. I did find a page telling me how “the Commonwealth experienced an increase in homelessness from 2.6 percent of the population in 2011 to 2.8 percent in 2012″, which would mean that there are currently at least 850,000 homeless people. I’m guessing the real number is not far from a million…

On the same website on Boston, however, they tell you that “96.8 percent of homeless people are reported as sheltered” (according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2012 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report). It feels ironic to discover this statistic online, given that there’s no information available on the actual number of the homeless in Boston (or if there is, it’s too hard to find)! Finding a shelter, moreover, amounts to nothing like overcoming homelessness (and inversely, if the shelters were permanent, the whole statistic would be misleading).

My Fulbright Fellowship at Harvard University came to a happy close at the start of July, 2013. I departed for Finland from New York, so I took a bus from Boston to New York one day before my flight. I was hoping to book a cheap hotel not far from where the bus took me, in the relative vicinity of the Times Square…

… As I was walking back and forth from the hotel, I gradually discovered that the homeless folks were setting up their dwellings on a dark street only a couple of blocks from my hotel. Falling asleep in the vicinity of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi… I spoke to a black man scracthing himself at the steps of the church, with him wondering whether my photos were part of journalistic project.

During my stay in Boston, one of the voluntary projects I took part in was the so-called Open Door, organized by the local Orthodox Church in Allston. Every Monday evening, the church prepared a free meal for the Boston homeless, served within the premises of the church. Every week, the church had volunters from the parish – often but not always young – come and do the voluntary work of cooking, setting the table, serving, doing the dishes and cleaning up.

I joined the group three times, and will not forget the sentiment I felt when the folks came in the first time. They came from a different reality, and at the same time, we spent a moment together in a shared world. Moreover, I was glad to notice that many young men showed up for the voluntary work as well. In my home country, such voluntary activities usually attract the attention of women, and not so much of men.

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