It Takes A Somervillage
Last year there were 48 homeless children in the Somerville Public Schools who had to be transported from shelters and other emergency housing every day to go to school. This doesn’t include all the homeless teenagers, couchsurfing and trying to keep their lives together and stay in school, hoping they can make a better life for themselves. We know the terrible effect homelessness has on children. Some studies show a child loses three to six months of their education every time they have to move — and homeless children are forced to move frequently, either to a different shelter, fleeing abuse, or trying to maintain affordable housing.
These children are not the only problem. On a cold night last January, Somerville homeless service providers counted 158 people, families with children and individuals, homeless here in the City. The costs associated with homelessness are staggering. The classic story is Malcolm Gladwell’s 2006 New Yorker story, “Million Dollar Murray”. Murray was a veteran and a chronically homeless individual; over the course of the year Gladwell followed him he cost society, you and me, $1,000,000 from the jails, emergency rooms, ambulance rides, and other expensive systems that took care of him. This is an extreme example but the reality is it costs more to have someone homeless than it does to have them housed.
What are we doing about this terrible problem? Last year Mayor Curtatone launched a plan to keep affordable housing in Somerville; he also created the Sustainable Neighborhoods Committee to look at programs and policies the city can undertake to insure everyone who wants to “live, work, and raise a family” in Somerville is able to. I’m part of these discussions, representing the Somerville Homeless Coalition, along with many other concerned citizens, nonprofits, and city workers.
We’re doing a lot — but there’s more that needs to be done to meet the need of people coming to us for help. The tagline for the Homeless Coalition is “Working to put ourselves out of business since 1985”. It’s our 30th anniversary this year and, from one angle, we have to say we’re not doing a good job of putting ourselves out of business. Homelessness is on the rise again in Massachusetts, unlike much of the country where the numbers have decreased. And it’s all about the lack of affordable housing.
Carla DeLellis, owner of Johnny D’s and the honoree at our 2014 Under the Roof dinner, said it “takes a Somervillage to address problems like hunger and homelessness in our community.” She’s right; and it’s not rocket science. The answer to homelessness is a home; the answer to hunger is food. They’re both human needs that I think should be human rights. Hunger and homelessness are symptoms of poverty — and poverty is a political issue. If it was just an economic issue with it costing more to have someone homeless than in housing, wouldn’t we have solved this a long time ago?
To help us get the point across and encourage everyone in the community to get involved, Somervillian Macaela VanderMost and her team at Newfangled Studios just did a video for us, “It Takes a Somervillage.” It includes a song by locals Hallelujah the Hills and some of our favorite people talking about the need. Our thanks to Macaela, the band and everyone involved. Check it out on our homepage, www.somervillehomelesscoalition.org, and please let me know what you think.
Problems like homelessness exist right here — but they can be solved. Let’s work together to make sure no child, no family, no individual is hungry or homeless in our city. Let’s make Somerville, a great city, a Somervillage where everyone has a home. And we will get there when we all agree that hunger and homeless are unacceptable in our community and we are all going to work together to end it. Thank you.
Executive Director, Somerville Homeless Coalition