My name is Taylor Cray and I am the Advocacy Supervisor at Preble Street. I am writing to reiterate a sentiment that has been shared by outreach workers, service providers, and community members alike regarding the clearing of the encampment on the Fore River Trail.
This sweep took place despite repeated pleas from community members and service providers that it be postponed. Letters were sent to City leadership detailing the many reasons why the clearing of this encampment was deeply harmful to the individuals living within that community. We all asked that outreach workers and community members please be given more time to continue the work of accessing housing and shelter.
Prior to the clearing of this encampment, notices were hung on the Fore River Parkway trail announcing the clearing date, often referred to as the “resolution date” by city officials. These notices encouraged those who were “ready to accept offers of shelter or housing” to communicate with city officials. The implication of these notices is that enough shelter and housing exist for every person who was living at the Fore River Encampment. Unfortunately, this is not true. We have neither the housing nor the shelter necessary to meet this need. It’s much easier to blame people for supposedly not accessing “available services” than it is to examine whether or not the services offered are the right ones, are delivered well, and are truly accessible from the client’s point of view. For many of the folks at Fore River, the closest thing to shelter that was available to them was the home and community they had built within the encampment. That home has been bulldozed.
Outreach to people living in encampments must be supported by resources – from increasing the number of staff providing the outreach to resources that help people meet their basic needs like access to clean water, bathrooms, and food to programs that can help people address substance use, medical, domestic violence, or other issues that prevent them from successfully accessing housing and shelter.
The sweep of an encampment is a traumatizing experience for the individuals being displaced. On Wednesday, as we worked in the growing heat and humidity of the day, stuffing sleeping bags and tents into garbage bags so that they could be carried more easily, I found myself wondering how this was the solution that we chose. Throughout the encampment, the sound of bulldozers crushing tents could be heard, despite promises that any unaccompanied property would be stored and available for pickup later. Many people were in tears as their homes, community, and what little sense of stability they may have had were taken away in front-loaders.
This encampment clearing should not have happened. Encampment sweeps are traumatizing and harmful. We must do better. As the Encampment Crisis Response Team now shifts its focus to another “resolution” at the encampment on Marginal Way, please let us not forget what happened on September 6. Building relationships takes time. Trust takes time. Please give outreach workers and community members the time that they need to do this work.