Homeless ‘Camps’ Topic For Town Council Last Night
By: James Kinsella
A homeless man last night addressed the Barnstable Town Council on the topic of homeless camps in town.
Pete Phillips, 39, of Hyannis said people in the camps were just trying to survive.
In the past, Mr. Phillips said, he worked to try to help the people in the camps, many of which have existed off in the woods off Old Colony Boulevard south of South Street in Hyannis.
Now, Mr. Phillips said, due to the recession, he, himself, has fallen into homelessness.
“I work,” Mr. Phillips said. “I pay taxes. I can’t live on my own.”“
You get looked down upon” if you are homeless, he said.
Mr. Phillips, as well as an advocate for the homeless and members of the town council, spoke about the camps at last night’s council meeting held at town hall.
The issue of the camps, which have existed in town for decades, was brought into sharp relief by a fire Tuesday morning that burned down the announcer’s booth at Marshall J. Lopes Field off Old Colony Boulevard in Hyannis.
Police have charged three homeless teenagers with causing the fire, which investigators say was sparked by a discarded cigarette.
“What the kids did at the baseball field, I think that’s awful,” Mr. Phillips told the council.
He said he knew the individuals personally.
He emphasized to the council that “there are other people in those groups” at the camp, people just trying to survive.
Mr. Phillips said he came to speak before the town council because he heard there was a movement to eradicate the camps.
He said he was a United States Navy veteran who moved to the area in the early 1980s.
For 17 years, Mr. Phillips said, he worked as a fisherman out of Hyannis Harbor.
“Maybe some of you remember me from down there,” he said.
Alan Burt of Centerville, an advocate for the homeless, also went to last night’s meeting to address the homeless issue.
He said he was not happy about plans he had heard to bulldoze the camps.
Mr. Burt said the issue at heart was housing affordability.
He called on the Town of Barnstable and other Cape towns to spend $100,000 annually from their community preservation funds to provide housing for people now in the camps.
He said 15 homeless people have died locally this year.
They are scheduled to be commemorated December 21 at a service at the Federated Church in Hyannis.
“We have to come up with solutions,” Mr. Burt said. “You are the town leaders. You have the hot potato.”
Councilor Ann B. Canedy of Barnstable Village, who said her church has been working on the homeless issue, said no one should be allowed to live in the camps.
Ms. Canedy said these places are not “camps,” but rather places where hypodermic needles and empty vodka bottles can be found on the ground, where people defecate in nearby wetlands, and where young people are living among adults.
The councilor said the fire at Lopes Field occurred a stone’s throw from the Cape Cod Child Development facility and Pope John Paul II High School in Hyannis.
Councilor Janice L. Barton of Marstons Mills echoed Ms. Canedy.
“These are not camps,” Ms. Barton said. “No one should be living in them.”
She thanked the people who were working to help the homeless.
Councilor Janet S. Joakim, who said she had been serving on the town council close to 12 years, said it has been difficult to find a solution to the problem of the homeless camps.
To Mr. Burt, she suggested that he go to other Cape towns to get them to help address the issue.
“They don’t have it in their back yard,” Ms. Joakim said. “Have you thought about traveling and going to their meetings?”
Further, Ms. Joakim said, there are some individuals who will not go into a homeless shelter.
“How do you get these people to move from the woods and into a shelter?” she asked.
Councilor Jennifer L. Cullum of Hyannis, who asked Mr. Phillips to come by her market on Sea Street, called the camps inhumane.
Ms. Cullum said she cannot believe people who are living in the camps in the middle of the winter are making a freely made choice.
Debra S. Dagwan, a councilor from Hyannis, agreed with Mr. Phillips that a mixture of people can be found among the homeless, some driven into their ranks by the recession.
Following the comments by councilors, Mr. Burt rose to say, “Just to be clear, I don’t believe in the camps myself. There’s not enough affordable housing.”
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