UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Faces of the Homeless Panel

As part of a week long UMB Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Campaign, MassPIRG sponsored a Faces of the Homeless panel in the Wheatley Lounge Tuesday, November 18. The panel featured Wes Lewis and Mike Murray, two men who have both spent endless nights on cold cement and in the not-so-nurturing homeless shelters in and around the greater Boston area.

Mike Murray is a familiar face around UMB and is currently a homeless student studying on campus. Although Murray works at UMass Boston in various capacities, he is not able to make enough money to pay rent for a place to live, which inspires him to work on issues involving the lack of affordable housing in the Boston area.

“Walk a mile in my shoes, spend a night in a shelter where people are treated like animals” Murray said. Although the panel saw a small group of students in the audience, students were not afraid to speak up and ask the panelists questions.

One student commented that homelessness is the excess of a larger societal problem, perhaps making the problem difficult for ordinary citizens to help fix. Wes Lewis encouraged her and the audience to write local congressman and legislators.

Anyone can become homeless not just alcoholics or drug users, according to Lewis who was actually homeless a few years ago because of problems with his mother-in-law. Lewis additionally described homelessness as a game of survival. “There are a lot of tough cookies. You can’t even imagine being homeless.”

This sentiment is precisely what Murray attempted to capture with a media project in cooperation with “Symphony of a City” directors Liz Canner and John Ewing. On April 27 and May 4 of 2001, Murray and eight other individuals, including Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, set out on Congress Street in Boston wearing web cams attached to their eyeglasses so that others viewing the video could experience the course of a normal day in Boston.

Liz and John Ewing have a website on which Murray explains, “Symphony is meant to provoke critical dialogue and interpretation among participants and viewers on the nature of multicultural relations in today’s rapidly changing Boston.”

Additionally, Murray describes the highlights of the first day with the web cam. “I walked around and observed the people that frequent the Boston Common and Downtown Crossing, a couple of favorite spots for the city’s homeless.” Many homeless families Murray spoke with pay $300 a week to live in motels. “Is this really affordable?” Murray asked.

The focus of Murray’s part of the project is the lack of affordable housing and the homelessness situation in Boston. Murray also points out, “There are trillions of dollars in tax cuts over the next ten years so why not one billion for affordable housing?”

Building on Murray’s point, an audience member announced that a big problem with homelessness is the lack of ability to get a subsidy. Lewis explained, “There is no reason to close Section Eight. Shelters pile up and more people are left on the street to get arrested.”

The small audience enabled the panelists to create a continuous dialogue with the UMB students who perhaps left the lounge with a different perspective on the homelessness problem in the Boston area.

“Symphony of a City” is due to be aired on PBS nationwide in the near future.