FortLeft is moving

No, not the blog, just physically.  We are moving off the hill in Roxbury (Boston) to a hill in Brattleboro, VT.  As one of my Vermont friends said, “Welcome to Bernieland!”

You may – or may not- have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new in quite a while but things have been a little crazy what with house hunting, getting loans, etc.  And now that we have a target closing date there are all the details to deal with.  Home inspection, insurance, changing everything to another state and finding contractors when you are not on the scene is a challenge.  My advice is to have a good broker.  And then there is packing.

Packing up 20 years of stuff spread out in a 14 room house is quite an experience.  At least we are moving to another large house with attic and a basement that is dry and are sorting and culling rather than downsizing.  The trick is to imagine where things will go in the new house.  That’s what I do at 3 am when I can’t sleep – along with worrying about what kinds of quirks the new house will have.  My grandson said the other night that he thinks it will take at least a year to know all about the new house.  He’s 10.

I’ve been sorting though papers and have found a lot of treasures in piles and boxes. For example, I found some old letters and emails from two of my best friends.  One of them died of a rare form of cancer, the other now has a form of dementia.  We were all so happy and cheerful 12 and 15 years ago.  And then there are all the loose photographs from back when there was actual film. Remember, people would take pictures and then send prints of the best ones so a lot of them are still in envelopes which assists in identification.  And then there are all the ones my husband and I have taken.  At one time I did try to put them in albums, but that fell of the radar early on.  Now they are just loose or in the envelopes they came back from the developer in.  They will mean something some day.  My husband and I are our respective family historians so we have many of the old family albums.  It was a wonderful moment to find the picture I had thought was lost: My grandfather, the Reverend Kyogoku, with his friend, D.T. Suzuki.  (A subject for a future post.)  That photograph is now digitized and saved in several places.

I am an admitted pack rat and had saved old Christmas cards carefully bundled by year.  I ditched the cards, but saved the pictures.  One long Vermont winter I will pull them out to group chronologically by family.  I also had papers from a lot of the big projects I’ve worked on over the years in Boston.  I kept the final products but have recycled most of the work papers.  I have program books and announcements and copies of speeches from (to mane a few) the Jackson Square redevelopment (the early years); “Women on the Edge of Time”, the annual conference of the National Commissions for Women held in Boston in 1999; the creation of the Massachusetts Commission for Women; the first statue of women on Commonwealth Avenue; grants I helped write for domestic violence efforts; and booklets I put together for the Boston Housing Authority on civil rights issues. When I last  moved 20 years ago, I did the same thing with my stuff from Richmond which is still in neatly labeled boxes.  I also have political stuff from the various campaigns I’ve worked on – from George McGovern to Elizabeth Warren.  My lesson learned is to try to file things as you go along.  At least I’m starting with good intentions but I think I had them after Richmond.  Oh, well.

And then there are the books.  All 7,000 or so that are moving with us.  A small library.  I’ve been cataloging them on LibraryThing, for the last two years, but I’m only about half finished.  (LibraryThing is a great way to keep track of your books even if you just have a few.)

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

There is lots of excitement and anxiety on Fort Hill these days.  The cats are confused by all the piles of boxes and things that keep getting moved around as we pack. We talk to them and try to explain, but all they know is that things are different and they aren’t happy about it.  Mr. Bunter cries and Harriet eats Kleenex out of the boxes.  They are just as stressed out as their humans.

I will continue to write about life in a new place, living in a small town, and – always national politics.  My location will change but FortLeft will endure – perhaps a little irregularly for a while, but I hope not with as long a gap as just occurred.

 

 

 

The Longfellow Bridge, Part 3 or we don’t build the way we used to build

When I did my first post on the Longfellow Bridge almost four years ago, I didn’t realize it was the first in an occasional series, but that is what it has turned out to be.  The first post was about design and reconfiguring the roadway for car, the train, bicycles, and walkers.  In the second, I wrote about the final design, the construction schedule and traffic patterns during the long period of rebuilding.  And since the construction is now underway, this post is about rebuilding the historic structure.

Longfellow Bridge under construction May 2014

Longfellow Bridge under construction May 2014

I had a chance to look at the bridge the other night when we drove over to Kendall Square on Memorial Drive.  You can see the old ironwork and that one pair of the salt and pepper shakers has been removed.  So it was interesting to read the story in the Boston Globe a few days later on some of the difficulties engineers and contractors have been confronting.

It turns out that they just don’t make bridges the way they used to.

One year after the launch of the sweeping Longfellow Bridge reconstruction project, contractors are getting an education on the construction practices of yore, poring over century-old bridge building manuals, reviving obsolete metalworking techniques, and scouring the region for building materials that have long disappeared from the market.

Rockport granite, with its inimitable grain? That stuff stopped being excavated during the Great Depression.

And the art of riveting metal? Its heyday — which calls to mind black-and-white photos of fighter planes and posters of a bandanna-wearing woman named “Rosie” — has long faded into the past.

The Longfellow is historic and contractors bidding to work on the bridge were required to agree to replicate old techniques wherever possible.  Riveting for example.

The art of riveting went out of fashion a half-century ago. The practice involves heating rivets, cylindrical metal shafts with round heads, up to 2,000 degrees, until they glow bright red, then quickly jamming them into a hole before they have a chance to cool. It’s slow, costly, and dangerous. That’s why construction largely switched to nuts and bolts that can more easily be screwed into place.

“The technology never totally went away,” Sullivan [Charles from the Cambridge Historic Commission] said. “But you no longer see pictures of people standing on the frame of the Empire State Building throwing rivets through the air.”

So how did the contractors learn the technique?

Some of the contractors attended a seminar on riveting in Michigan. Others looked to 1930s-era manuals on rivet techniques — their best guide on the subject.

And the Rockport granite?

But rivets aren’t the only challenge of this project. Finding the right replacement granite has proved elusive.The particular granite hails from quarries in Rockport that began to close just after the Wall Street crash of 1929.

Concrete was cheap and easy to make, and became a more popular option for construction.

Now, Rockport granite is impossible to find freshly cut from the earth: Anything now on the market has been reclaimed, stripped from an existing structure. And most pieces available are thin slabs — not the great big blocks necessary for the work on the Longfellow.

As part of a new design for the bridge deck, contractors had already planned to strip the existing granite curb between the vehicle lanes and the T tracks. They had hoped to repurpose that granite to construct new stone stairs and barriers on the side of the bridge.

But the stone alongside the train tracks is known as Deer Isle granite, which has a lavender hue — not the black-white-and-gray speckled look of Rockport granite.

“People who know stone said, ‘Oh, it’s Deer Isle, that’s not going to work,’ ” Roper [Steve from Mass DOT] said. “They’re different grains, and they will not look good if you put them side by side.”

So where can you find Rockport granite?

What they didn’t know: Biz Reed, co-owner and executive vice president of Wakefield-based Olde New England Granite, had exactly what they needed. In 2010, on a whim, Reed’s company had purchased 3,000 tons of historic Rockport granite that had been stripped from the Hines Memorial Bridge in Amesbury during a reconstruction project.

He had no idea what the company would do with such a large amount of such a particular form of stone, but they couldn’t pass it up.

“Little did we know it would be the right match for the Longfellow,” Reed said. “We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

When Reed got word that a team of MassDOT officials, historical preservationists, and construction contractors were all on the hunt for the Rockport stone, he gave them a call.

So piece by piece, rivet by rivet, the Longfellow Bridge is being restored to her former self – with room to ride, walk or bike.

Longfellow before

Photograph:  Longfellow under construction David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Photograph:  Longfellow Bridge from Wikipedia images

St. Patrick’s Day 2014

I’m not quite sure I understand the whole controversy about openly gay persons marching in a St. Patrick’s Day parade.  The parade is just a celebration of heritage and the Irish are just as diverse as any other group.  Boston’s old Mayor, Tom Menino, simply didn’t march in the South Boston parade because of the restriction, upheld by a Supreme Court decision, that the parade organizers could choose who they wanted to march.  But new Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is, along with U. S. Representative Stephen Lynch, doing his best to broker a compromise that would allow Mass Equality to march with a banner.  I think the parade organizers that include a fellow called Wacko Hurley fear that their parade would turn into another gay pride march if they let any LGBT groups march.  Presumably, the LGBT community knows the difference: March is not June.  Plus, there is a picture from the 1992 parade, pre-Supreme Court decision,  that shows there is nothing to fear.

The parade is only a couple of days away, and Mayor Walsh is making one last try.  Most Boston and Massachusetts state-wide elected officials have already announced they are not going to march.  I think the only exception is Nick Collins, the State Representative from South Boston.

The 1992 South Boston parade after a court order.

The 1992 South Boston parade after a court order.

Kevin Cullen has a wonderful column in today’s Boston Globe about the Boston and New York City parades.

So Marty Walsh, God love ’im, is going to make one last-ditch effort to hammer out a compromise so gay people can march openly in Sunday’s parade in Southie.

As they say in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht, from where Marty’s parents are from, “Beir bua agus beannacht.” Look it up.

Down here in New York, where its St. Patrick’s Day parade is older than the Declaration of Independence and lasts anywhere from six to seven hours, there’s the same standoff, with organizers refusing to let gay people march with banners that identify themselves as gay.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the Irish say, couldn’t be arsed when it comes to forging compromise. He boycotted the parade when he was the city’s public advocate. He’s not going to start marching now.

De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, of the Medford [MA] Bloombergs, marched in the parade but de Blasio is about as different from Bloomberg as the Irish are from Irish-Americans.

De Blasio, who grew up in Cambridge, is married to a black woman and has biracial kids, so he’s not really into exclusion. But neither is he into cozying up to the New York Irish, who were in the corner of de Blasio’s primary opponent, Christine Quinn, who was the city council president.

The irony in this — and it wouldn’t be Irish if there weren’t irony — is that Quinn is openly gay. Which means, even when she led the city council delegation in the parade she wasn’t allowed to identify herself as being gay.

So the New York Irish wanted to elect an openly gay mayor but wouldn’t let her march in the parade as openly gay.

And people in New York think we’re nuts?

Mayor Walsh, on the other hand, had support from both the gay community and South Boston so he’s kinda caught in the middle.  But he has said that if he can’t work a compromise, he won’t march.

Linda Dorcena Forry

Linda Dorcena Forry

Boston also has this breakfast before the parade.  Politicians come and roast each other and try to sing Irish songs.  Last May I wrote about South Boston and the election of Linda Dorcena Forry.  I predicted that she would bring some life back to the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast.  Dorcena Forry is Hatian American married to an Irish man.  The City Councilor from South Boston tried to wrest control, but tradition prevailed:  The State Senator who represents Southie hosts the breakfast.  So Bill Linehan is taking his ball and going to Ireland for the day.  I hope he realizes that this will make him the butt of a lot of jokes.  Whatever.Linda is doing her best to live up to my prediction.  First she announced that the Dropkick Murphy’s, Boston’s very popular Irish punk group, would perform.  Then the Boston Globe had news today of  her most recent announcement about the breakfast.

State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry’s groundbreaking debut as the first woman, first Haitian-American, and first Dorchester resident to host the storied St. Patrick’s Day breakfast on Sunday is apparently drawing some international attention.

Dorcena Forry announced Thursday that Enda Kenny — Ireland’s prime minister, or taoiseach — has agreed to attend the ribald political roast in South Boston.

The visit by a sitting head of state is a coup for Dorcena Forry, who promised to raise the profile of a breakfast that in recent years seemed to have lost some of its star power.

“I am honored that Taoiseach Kenny will join us for this year’s breakfast,” Dorcena Forry said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting the taoiseach during his previous visits to Boston. His attendance at the breakfast is a wonderful affirmation of the deep bonds of friendship between Boston and Ireland.”

No word on whether President Obama will be appearing either on tape or by live feed, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  The Prime Minister is not marching in the parade.

The times are rapidly changing.  Boston Beer Company (think Sam Adams) just announced they have pulled their parade sponsorship.  Wacko and his veterans group are doing a great job of killing the parade.  Meanwhile, the breakfast thrives.  Is there a lesson here?

Photograph of GLIB marching:  Marilyn Humphries

Women, gun violence, and domestic violence

According to the op-ed by Nicolas Kristof in last Sunday’s New York Times Review,

Sometimes there’s a perception that domestic violence is insoluble, because it’s such a complex, messy problem with women who are culprits as well as victims. Yet, in fact, this is an area where the United States has seen enormous progress.

Based on victimization surveys, it seems that violence by men against their intimate partners has fallen by almost two-thirds since 1993. Attitudes have changed as well. In 1987, only half of Americans said that it was always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or stick; a decade later, 86 percent said that it was always wrong.

A generation ago, police didn’t typically get involved. “We would say, ‘don’t make us come back, or you’re both going to jail,’ ” recalled Capt. Leonard Dreyer of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. In contrast, sheriff’s officers now routinely arrest the aggressor.

I have to admit that I am skeptical, but hope that his numbers are correct.  Even Kristof opens his column with ” [w]hat strikes one American woman in four and claims a life in the United States every six hours?”  A high profile case such as that of Jared Remy who killed his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel in front of their young daughter confirms that at point at which a woman makes an effort to leave a relationship is the point at which she is most likely to be killed.  Kristof himself recounts this story

American women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as breast cancer, and the abuse is particularly shattering because it comes from those we have loved.

“He’s the only person I’ve ever loved,” Ta’Farian, 24, said of her husband, whom she met when she was an 18-year-old college student. He gradually became violent, she says, beating her, locking her up in a closet, and destroying property.

“My family was like, ‘He’s your husband. You can’t leave him. How would you support yourself?’ ”

Still, she says, it became too much, and she called 911. Police arrested him. But she says that the day before the trial, her husband called and threatened to kill her if she testified against him, so she says that out of a mix of fear and love she refused to repeat in court what had happened. Her husband was let off, and she was convicted of false reporting of a crime.

I was still thinking about the Kristof column this morning when I read this front page story in this morning’s Boston Globe on women who buy and hold guns for men.

…As law enforcement agencies and the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh ponder ways to get guns off the street, they are learning that targeting the men who historically have been the primary actors in violent crimes is not enough.

They must also disrupt networks of women who buy and hold weapons for men to use.

“We are seeing women with weapons who do not have a direct role in the city’s gun violence,’’ said Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley. “But they are turning up with firearms that are used in that violence.”

Debora Seifert, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol,  Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Boston, said that she has worked on cases in which women bought firearms for boyfriends who are drug dealers.

Police confiscated a shotgun and ammunition from Arianna Talbert’s Dorchester apartment last year.

“These women can go into a gun shop and buy these guns for a violent criminal,’’ said Seifert. “They can use these weapons to victimize someone in their communities.”

Jahmeilla Tresvant is facing gun charges in two cases. In one, police believe she was holding a gun for her brother

Jahmeilla Tresvant is facing gun charges in two cases. In one, police believe she was holding a gun for her brother

These guns are often hidden in apartments rented by the women and their discovery can result in eviction.

While research is scant on women’s involvement in the gun problem, studies have been clear about who is leading violence by firearms, said David Hemenway, a professor of public health at Harvard School of Public Health.

Men and teenage boys drive gun crime either as victims or perpetrators. If a woman buys a gun, Hemenway added, she is more likely to be buying it for someone who cannot legally buy a gun.

“These young females find themselves facing jail time for holding that gun,’’ said Evans [Boston Police Commissioner William Evans] in a statement.

The mindset that let Ta’Farian stay with her abusive husband is the same one that causes the young women to buy and hold guns.

In the war on illegal guns, Ruth Rollins has heard it all. She’s an advocate for women whose own son was shot and killed. Women have long been flying under radar in police sweeps for illegal guns, she said. And women have become easy prey for criminally-minded men, who are becoming savvy in avoiding arrest for gun possession by having female relatives, partners, or juveniles hold firearms for them.

Women have said they hold the guns for a variety of reasons: to get a few extra dollars, to get drugs, or simply to feel needed. The firearms are sometimes used as community guns stored in a central location, and anyone, from a wayward juvenile to a terrified young man, can have easy access to them.

“It’s no different from years ago when a woman would hold drugs for their men. They would do it for money. They would do it for love,’’ said Rollins. “Now they are holding these guns and they are doing it in the name of love.”

Kim Odom, who lost her 13-year-old son to violence, said some women feel a deep sense of commitment to their men, even the ones wrapped up in crime.

“They are of the mind-set that they are ‘ride-or-die chicks,’ ” Odom said. “These are young ladies who are willing to go all out for their boyfriends.”

This is just another kind of domestic violence.  Maybe more psychological than physical, but still domestic violence.  And like incidents of domestic violence which end either in death or injury to the woman or in which the woman ends up killing her abuser. [And yes, I do know that women can also be abuser, but men  still make up the vast majority.]

Over past year and a half Rollins and Odom have been training and educating women about the consequences of buying and stashing weapons. They urge women to make pledges to not hold or buy guns and warn them of the penalties if caught. For instance, a person who makes a straw purchase faces up to 10 years in prison under federal law, US authorities said.

Their effort, called Operation LIPSTICK, is run through Citizens for Safety, which has enlisted the help of local law enforcement and the mayor to press the issue. On Feb. 25, the group kicked off an ad campaign on the MBTA,  with placards on subway trains  declaring, “His Crime, Your Time — Holding His Gun Can Land You in Jail.”

Perhaps if we used some of the new technology that would prevent anyone but the gun purchaser from firing it, we would be able to cut down on some of the urban gun violence and some young women would be able to stay out of prison.  Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey has proposed a Smart Gun bill.  We should support it.

Photograph:  Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Globe story:  Meghan E. Irons

Micro-housing for the homeless

Here in Boston as well as in other cities there has been a lot of talk about small apartment with lower rents for young professionals.  The Boston Globe had a story last July about the effort to drop both unit size and price.

The kitchen and living area of a 530-square-foot apartment at Factory 63 in the Innovation District (top).

The kitchen and living area of a 530-square-foot apartment at Factory 63 in the Innovation District (top).

Last month, Shen [Kairos Shen, Chief Planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority] drafted a memo to the Zoning Board of Appeals stating that the BRA supports smaller sizes for all unit types near transit stops. In addition to 450-square-foot studios, it is also allowing one bedrooms to drop to 625 square feet from 750; and two bedrooms to 850 feet from 900 feet.

The change is a compromise with critics who have pressed the Menino administration to allow units as small as 350 square feet — known as microapartments — to help cut housing costs. So far, the administration is only allowing those units to be built in the South Boston Innovation District, where it is still testing whether they are viable and being priced at affordable levels.

“So far we’re seeing those apartments rent for $2,100, $2,200, and $2,300 a month,” Shen said. “That’s beyond what everyone expected, so we have to have a better mechanism in place to ensure that the pricing is fair.”

Boston is one of many high-cost cities immersed in a nationwide debate over minimum housing sizes. San Francisco is now allowing units as small as 220 square feet, and cities from Des Moines to Chicago to Portland, Ore., are experimenting with smaller units. In Seattle, developers are building apartments as small as 140 square feet.

Having read about these small units for young professionals, the recent New York Times story about an innovative housing solution for a group of homeless persons caught my eye.  It was  a long story in the Home and Garden section which most often features high-end renovations and not affordable housing.

On Christmas Eve, Kevin Johnson received the following gifts: a bed and mattress, a blanket and sheets, a desk and chair, a toilet and sink, towels and washcloths, toothpaste and floss, and a brand-new house.

Mr. Johnson, a 48-year-old day laborer, did not find that last item beneath the Christmas tree, although it nearly would have fit. At 144 square feet — 8 by 18 feet, or roughly the dimensions of a Chevrolet Suburban — the rental house was small. Tiny would be a better descriptor. It was just half the size of the “micro” apartments that former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed for New York City.

Quixote Village opened Dec. 24 on 2.1 acres in an industrial park near Washington’s capital.

Quixote Village opened Dec. 24 on 2.1 acres in an industrial park near Washington’s capital.

What really made the project unique was not only the size of the units but the fact that they were built for a specific group of homeless persons, Camp Quixote,  who were involved in siting and design.

Beyond its recent good fortune, the settlement was — and is — exceptional. Quixote Village, as it is now called, practices self-governance, with elected leadership and membership rules. While a nonprofit board called Panza funds and guides the project, needing help is not the same thing as being helpless. As Mr. Johnson likes to say, “I’m homeless, not stupid.”

A planning committee, including Mr. Johnson, collaborated with Garner Miller, an architect, to create the new village’s site layout and living model. Later, the plans were presented to an all-camp assembly. “Those were some of the best-run and most efficient meetings I’ve ever been involved in,” said Mr. Miller, a partner at MSGS Architects. “I would do those over a school board any day.”

The residents lobbied for a horseshoe layout rather than clusters of cottages, in order to minimize cliques. And they traded interior area for sitting porches. The social space lies outside the cottage. Or as Mr. Johnson put it, “If I don’t want to see anybody, I don’t have to.”

The size also cuts the cost of construction.

Some advantages to building small are obvious. Ginger Segel, of the nonprofit developer Community Frameworks, points to construction costs at Quixote Village of just $19,000 a unit (which included paying labor at the prevailing commercial wage). Showers, laundry and a shared kitchen have been concentrated in a community center. When you add in the cost of site preparation and the community building, the 30 finished units cost $88,000 each.

By comparison, Ms. Segel, 48, said, “I think the typical studio apartment for a homeless adult in western Washington costs between $200,000 and $250,000 to build.” In a sense, though, the difference is meaningless. Olympia and surrounding Thurston County hadn’t built any such housing for homeless adults since 2007.

The units, unlike the micro apartments built for young professionals, have no kitchens, laundry or shower facilities.  Those are housed in a community center.  Creating Quixote Village took state funding, the city donating the vacant industrial park land, and a number of churches that had worked with Camp Quixote.  The rent is,  for the most part, subsidized.

Residents wanted a horseshoe layout rather than a cluster and traded interior space for sitting porches.

Residents wanted a horseshoe layout rather than a cluster and traded interior space for sitting porches.

For some of the residents a unit at Quixote Village may turn out to model Housing First.

Jon Waddey … describes Quixote Village “not as an end, but a means.” He had been cooking in a restaurant that closed, and bottomed out in jail on a felony heroin possession.

Even after starting methadone, he was in no state to look for another job. “I had a huge beard,” he said. “I needed a place to shave and shower. I just needed a place to feel human.”

At other homeless shelters, the staff rummaged through your bags, breathalyzed you and kicked you out from morning to evening time. “It’s a horrible feeling having no place to be,” Mr. Waddey, 41, said. At a facility like that, “you’re really made to feel where you’re at.”

Of his new cottage, he said: “I absolutely love it. I have my little writing desk, my reading desk, a lovely view of the trees. In a way, that’s what I’ve always wanted.”

A few weeks after settling into Quixote Village, Mr. Waddey was starting to investigate how long it would take at the Evergreen State College to finish his long-deferred undergraduate degree. At night, he was making his way through the John le Carré BBC mini-series “Smiley’s People,” and cooking for friends in the community kitchen.

“I think cooking is one of the most fundamental things you can do,” Mr. Waddey said. “To feed people and see how happy it makes them.”

Is the Quixote Village model sustainable?  Can it be replicated?  Can the residents survive in a former industrial park with drainage problems?  It is much to early to tell, but it has at least provided 29 people shelter, community, and hope.

Photograph:  Boston micro unit John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Photographs of Quixote Village: Jeremy Bittermann for The New York Times

Housing the homeless

Sometimes it just takes an illness in the family or a loss of job often combined with drug or alcohol abuse to make someone homeless.  Throw in the cost of rent – even for an affordable unit – and the scarcity of rental units and you have a problem with housing the homeless.

A view of the Pine Street Inn Homeless Shelter

A view of the Pine Street Inn Homeless Shelter

Each year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires a census of the homeless population.  This includes people living on the streets, in shelters, in motels, and anyone who, on the night of the census, is in a treatment program or hospital but has no other address.  The City of Boston does its census in December; most other localities in January.  At the end of January, the Boston Globe reported the results for Boston.

The number of men, women, and children living in shelters or on the streets in Boston continues to increase, growing 3.8 percent in 2013 over the previous year, according to an annual city tally.

The city identified 7,255 homeless people living in the city when volunteers conducted the annual homeless census last month, up from 6,992 during its 2012 count.

The census found 1,234 homeless families on the night of the survey, as well as 2,056 homeless children, the first time Boston counted more than 2,000 homeless children since the city began keeping track more than three decades ago.

That’s a lot of people.

While the raw number of homeless people in Boston continues to increase year after year, city officials stress that very few of the city’s homeless adults, just 2.5 percent, are living on the street. The number of homeless living in emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, hospitals, and substance abuse homes saw significant increases from 2012.

The citywide census located 180 adults who were living on the street, down from 193 in 2012

This has been a very cold winter with lots of snow early.  I’ve learned that many of those 180 persons have mental health issues which make it doubtful that they would move to a shelter or accept housing.  Others prefer the streets to a crowded shelter. Boston reduced the number living on the street with a “housing first” program.  This model moves the person into housing, and then provides supportive services rather than providing services first and then shelter.  The Boston Globe explained it this way in a June 2007 story.

In the past, society’s approach to homeless people with chronic health problems such as addiction has been governed by tough love: Stay in treatment, or you don’t get the opportunity for publicly supported housing. People who could not confront their addiction, the thinking went, could not handle an apartment.

But a new approach, called “housing first,” is gathering momentum. The idea is to target the most difficult cases — the chronically homeless who make up between 10 and 20 percent of the homeless population and spend years cycling between the streets, shelters, jail cells, and emergency rooms — and give them apartments without requiring them to get sober, in the hope that having a place to live will help them address their other problems. More than 150 cities or counties around the country already have programs of some kind or plans to initiate one, and last month the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended doubling the size of a small pilot program in the state. If the pilot succeeds, proponents say it could force dramatic changes in homeless policy — and a recognition that the current shelter system, built on what they call a punitive moralism, has fundamentally failed.

With money carved from various grants from the state and HUD, the Department of Neighborhood Development built or rehabbed units for people to move into.  Housing First is a collaboration between state and city agencies and several non-profits.  The stability of having a permanent place that does not required moving possession with you with a high risk of theft helps many.  It has also reduced the number of long-term stayers in shelters some of whom had been in shelters so long, they considered them home.  But there are never enough apartments.

I’m not writing this because I have a solution, far from it.  I’m writing this because we need to start thinking about housing for everyone in ways that are different from the traditional ways we think about it.  Many of us equate homeless shelters with housing for the homeless but shelters are not a long-term solution.  In a post to follow, I will talk about an experiment taking place in Washington State.

Photograph of Pine Street Inn from the Pine Street Inn website pinestreetinn.org

Maps, urban planning, and open space: the saga of Long Wharf

When I was working, I would often take a walk from the office down to Long Wharf and look out at the harbor.  There is a small open shelter and some benches at the end.  Walking with co-workers, we talked about the plan to build a restaurant and wondered how it would change the peaceful quiet that one found there.  Years passed and nothing happened which was fine with us.

A bit of background.  According the National Park Service,

Construction of Long Wharf began in 1710, though the idea of building a new wharf over the remains of the Barricado—a 2,200 foot long defensive wall/wharf of stone and wood piles that encircled the harbor—had been discussed as early as 1707. The wharf extended from the base of King Street (now State Street) and provided direct access to the commercial center of colonial Boston. By 1711 a number of warehouses had been built atop the wharf, and by 1715 the last 600 feet of wharf were completed.

In its heyday, Long Wharf was 1,586 feet in length and 54 feet wide, providing docking facilities for up to 50 vessels. In the 18th century, Boston was the leading colonial port (it would be surpassed by both New York and Philadelphia by the end of the century). Long Wharf was the nucleus of Boston’s maritime trade—by the end of the 18th century it reigned pre-eminent among Boston’s 80 wharves, handling both international and coastal trade. Its extraordinary length allowed large ships to dock and unload directly into warehouses without the use of   small boats. Because the wharf served   private merchants and the public, who could buy directly from the warehouses and stores on the wharf, it was a marketplace long before the construction of Faneuil Hall (Quincy Market) in the 1820s.

In addition to the economic importance of the wharf, it was also associated with the military history of Boston. Among the events that occurred here were the landing of British troops in 1770 to enforce the King’s laws and the evacuation of the same troops in March 1776; the landing of a vessel from Philadelphia bringing news of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; and during the Revolution, privateers and blockade runners sailed from Long Wharf and military stores were kept in its warehouses.

And today, the NPS describes Long Wharf this way

The Long Wharf and Custom House Block, a National Historic Landmark, is located at the end of State St. and east of Atlantic Ave. in Boston Harbor. The wharf buildings have been converted to residential, commercial and office spaces. On the northwest side of the wharf, a wood planked walkway is lined with benches, and at the end of Long Wharf, there is a large plaza, a covered shelter and a pink stone compass rose, which is  set into the ground. Various tour boat operators are located on the wharf and dock their vessels here.

The plans of the BRA to build a restaurant on the historic wharf may have been ended by the discovery of a National Park Service map.  The story of how the map was found is a fascinating one.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority was so close to realizing its vision of a restaurant on the tip of Long Wharf that you could almost smell the fried clams.

For nearly five years, BRA officials had fought a group of determined North End residents who had raised objections in administrative hearings and state courts.

The BRA spent close to a quarter of a million dollars on legal bills. Last year it finally won a Supreme Judicial Court decision almost certainly clearing the way for a private company to build Doc’s Long Wharf restaurant on the dramatic public space jutting into Boston Harbor.

But it seems that BRA officials, in their zeal to promote waterfront dining, failed to take into account an old map outlining the edge of Long Wharf as protected space. According to a 1980s agreement, the BRA had promised to forever preserve it for outdoor recreation.

Map of Long Wharf with the proposed restaurant marked.

Map of Long Wharf with the proposed restaurant marked.

It took a retired National Park Service employee to read an earlier Globe story, get a map from archives and bring things to a halt.

A retired National Park Service manager, reading about the controversy in the Globe, remembered the map and made a call. Sure enough, the Park Service found the 1980s map in a federal archive in Philadelphia, prompting a state judge to put the restaurant plans on hold in late December and leaving the BRA with ketchup on its face.

“The strange manner in which the [newly discovered map] came to light requires this court” to allow the map into evidence “in the interests of justice,” Suffolk Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey wrote in voiding the restaurant’s state environmental permit and calling for the BRA to reapply, this time using the correct map.

But the  BRA being so convinced that no one else can ever be right seems to be pushing on.

Opponents of the proposed restaurant, many of them neighbors untrained in the law who spent countless hours preparing legal briefs to counter the BRA, said Fahey’s ruling probably settles a debate that should never have begun in the first place. “To us, discovery of the right map means we definitely should win,” said Sanjoy Mahajan, an MIT electrical engineering professor, a former neighbor of the site, and a restaurant opponent. “We think this undercuts the entire BRA case. We only wish it had come to light earlier.”

But the BRA appears determined to plow on. It requested court permission to conduct its own investigation into the map, describing it in court filings as a mere “sketch” and as a “roughly drawn rendering” made by “an unknown individual . . . allegedly found” in archives.

BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said: “We are following the process in good faith, and we will get to the bottom of this. Our mission is to get people to enjoy the waterfront, and not let a few neighbors trump the public interest.”

But people do enjoy the park.  On a nice day to sit and watch the boats and the gulls while the breeze blows and it is quiet is a wonderful thing.  I understand the goal of the BRA is development, but one does not have to build everywhere.  When I was working for the City of Somerville, there was a fire and a house was destroyed.  Someone asked Mike Capuano, the Mayor at the time, what he thought should be built there.  His response, “Probably nothing.”  Somerville was, at the time, the most densely populated city in Massachusetts, if not the United States.  It needed some green space and the lot became open space.  Once does not need to build on every square inch of land.

“I don’t know what map they were using before, but I provided them with the one we have on record for that project,” Jack W. Howard, a National Park Service manager, said in an interview.

The new map, pulled from National Park Service files, shows that the proposed restaurant lies squarely within the bounds of a park financed under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. Federal law prohibits such restaurants in these federally funded parks with few exceptions. Apparently no one had previously asked the Park Service for a copy of the map.

Edward Rizzotto was a young National Park Service manager in the 1980s when a deal was struck for the federal government to provide almost $1 million to clean up the tip of the wharf. He says — and documents later uncovered by restaurant opponents bear this out — that the BRA agreed to record an easement guaranteeing it to be open space for 99 years.

“This was always intended as public open space in perpetuity,” Rizzotto, 70, said during an interview on the park site.

The park reaches into wind-swept Boston Harbor, a 35,000-square-foot plaza paved with granite flagstones, with a bronze plaque proclaiming Long Wharf Park and bearing the BRA’s  name. On one side of the site is an open air brick pavilion that provides shade for summertime picnickers.

More than 25 years passed before the BRA decided in 2006 that more people would enjoy one of the city’s premier outdoor spots if the pavilion were converted into a restaurant and tavern. Agency officials envisioned indoor and outdoor tables, live entertainment, takeout service, and food and alcohol until 1 a.m.

After years of hearings and a pile of legal briefs, a story on the restaurant battle published on the front page of the Globe on Oct. 10, 2012, caught the eye of Rizzotto, he said. He wondered why the restaurant plan had gotten so far when he recalled that the entire area was protected. Rizzotto eventually contacted Howard, the National Park Service manager, with whom he once worked. A search of the archives dredged up the one-page map now central to the case.

By then, the case had been argued before the Supreme Judicial Court but had not been decided. The map circulated among the Park Service, the Environmental Protection Department, the BRA, and restaurant opponents, but no one informed the court of its discovery. Fahey, who ruled on remaining state issues in the restaurant fight nine months after the SJC decision, noted that the BRA did not alert the SJC “that the material it was then considering may be incorrect.”

The Long Wharf area already has the Aquarium and hotels.  I hope that the end of the wharf remains the equivalent of open space.  As I learned 18 years ago, there is no need to build on every square inch of land.

Mayor Marty Walsh has called for a financial and programmatic audit of the BRA.  I hope the auditors look at this incident and ask why so much tax payer money was spent of legal fees.  Maybe it could have been spent on some new benches instead.

Map is from court filing and published in the Boston Globe.