Homelessness can#039;t be ignored

by Beacon Staff • November 29, 2006

It was sometime in the late evening and I was walking up Boylston Street from Piano Row. Only a few steps past the roadside scaffolding beside Gypsy Bar, a strange man interrupted my thought-free pacing.,I had an unpleasant experience recently. Unpleasant, but unfortunately not unusual, especially not to any Emerson student living on campus.

It was sometime in the late evening and I was walking up Boylston Street from Piano Row. Only a few steps past the roadside scaffolding beside Gypsy Bar, a strange man interrupted my thought-free pacing.

He was raggedly dressed, most definitely a street person or very well on his way to being one. His eyes were bloodshot and his words slurred, to such a degree that even a respectably heavy drinker would be put to shame.

What upset me, though, was not his appearance, but the intensity of the confrontation. Looking into his eyes was enough to see that he was no passive curbside beggar.

He did not ask for my money, but demanded it, informing me that "some people are out here." Indeed they are. I've given money to some of the most tragic cases who inhabit the Common and the surrounding area.

If the details had been slightly different the situation could well have been a mugging.

But would it have been a surprise? Situations like the above turn up every week in The Beacon's Public Safety Log.

Although common on the proper campus, the conspicuous absence of Emerson Security guards on the sidewalks and parkways between and around Piano Row and the Little Building has allowed the area to become a beggars' alley. In the wee hours of the morning, traveling alone between 80 and 150 Boylston can be downright unnerving.

It's necessary to take a moment to say that I do not mean to be classist or bigoted. Like any other feeling person, I have a great amount of sympathy for the homeless.

Many are tossed to the street at a young age, often for reasons beyond their direct control: family dysfunction, mental illness, teenage pregnancy and chronic unemployment, to name just a few.

Perhaps economic crimes like mugging possess a vague sort of legitimacy. Is it fair that some are born terribly impoverished while others, like thousands of Emersonians, are raised in relative luxury? By and large, the student body possesses racial, ethnic and class privileges, which are lost on those who ask us each day for a meager coin.

But these factors are unfortunate explanations, not viable excuses. They are generally moot when examining the problem at hand.

That aggressive beggars are allowed a free hand to extort as they wish, mere feet from our homes, is absurd. It is unconscionable that the administration has not done more to neutralize this clear and present annoyance.

Some will call the battle against institutional poverty impossible, but they are mistaken. Increased vigilance on the part of Securitas and regular patrols by campus police would probably go a long way.

While Boston police have tried many times to deal with this problem, Emerson nonetheless is caught in the middle. When the police monitor the Common, the homeless move to The Combat Zone; when they target The Combat Zone, the homeless go back to the Common.

This is a matter of public safety. It must be dealt with soon, or we run the risk of having something far worse than a mugging occur-and who then will shoulder the blame for our collective inaction and complacency?