Some Compassion for Homeless

12/10/2008
By From the Lowell Sun

By Jennifer Myers

Each morning at breakfast, Eileen Oliveira watches as people come in from the cold. She sees the effects of the bitter temperatures on their skin and how it exacerbates their existing health problems.

Oliveira, 36, lives at the Transitional Living Center, the city's homeless shelter.

"It is hard enough to be homeless, but seeing other homeless people suffer makes it worse," she said.

Oliveira was among a group of more than 50, made up of the city's homeless residents, UMass Lowell students and concerned citizens who packed the City Council chamber last night.

The Tent City Homeless Coalition was formed by UMass Lowell graduate student Allegra Williams and history professor Chad Montrie in the wake of the Nov. 20 eviction of 10 homeless people from a tent city along the Concord River off Rogers Street.

Mark Cerullo was living in that tent city the morning a dump truck backed up to the site and blew its horn. An hour later the police told them they had 45 minutes to get out.

"Everyone there was like a family," he said. "We ate together, took care of each other. The way it (the eviction) was done was not right. There should be a protocol on how tent cities are evacuated."

Montrie and Williams got to know many of the homeless people living in tent cities along the Concord River while working on a documentary about the Concord River Greenway.

"I have sat around a campfire and laughed with them," Montrie said. "They were human beings to me."
 
He added that his group wants an immediate investigation intro why the Rogers Street tent city was targeted that morning, when others were not; the establishment of a humane police protocol for homeless camp evacuations, providing an alternative place to stay; and a city-wide meeting to discuss the effects of redevelopment.

The group also wants to work to raise money to provide "winter protocol," the practice of bringing the homeless who otherwise would not meet he dry shelter requirements off the street in the winter.

The state cut the $80,000 required to fund the program earlier this year. Last month, City Manager Bernie Lynch held a summit with LTLC Director Peter Duda and more than 20 representatives from social-service organizations, hospitals and clinics, and Lowell police.

The winter protocol began this week, as scheduled. The city and others are working to secure additional funding to keep it going.

City Councilor Rita Mercier said that in these economic times anyone could be facing homelessness.

"These people are not here because they are lazy," she said. "They are here because they are the working poor. It could be me. It could be my children. It could be my mother."

She suggested the city speak to the owners of the former St. Joseph's Hospital, to use that building to house homeless residents.

"This is everyone's responsibility in the Merrimack Valley, in suburbia," Mayor Edward "Bud" Caulfield said. "It is a regional issue and we cannot do it all."

The Council voted to refer the Tent City Homeless Coalition's petition to Lynch's office and for the housing subcommittee to receive an update on the status of winter protocol funding within 30 days.