Upham's Corner Online

Edward Everett Square Residents Cry out for Help

Posted: April 11, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

Edward Everett Square MeetingChaired by John McColgan, the April 11, 2012 meeting was planned and organized by the Edward Everett Square Residents Committee. The evening’s planned agenda consisted of listening to residents testify to the severity of the problem, hearing from advocates for neighborhood, civic and cultural access and finally providing opportunities for public and private agencies to speak up, all of this to answer the question … What is to be done?  "The challenge before us tonight is to find a way to a resolution of this problem."

According to Mr. McColgan, "A lot of years, effort and money have been expended to beautify the square. A partnership between the city and the community has suitably transformed the square making it safer for pedestrians and creating world-class public art that evokes inspiration and insight into the Dorchester community's history and experience."

And that is where the accolades stopped. Mr. McColgan contrasted what he called

"a place designed to be inspirational, ambient and welcoming to families and schoolchildren"

to the same neighborhood that now

"has been invaded by the wretched looking galleons of shiftless looking individuals who by all appearances are afflicted by addictions and mental illness and whose offensive, noise-some, unhygienic and unlawful behavior has terrified neighbors and passersby, created public nuisances and obscene and disgusting spectacles producing an environment that has spawned a number of serious criminal acts and turned a cultural access of the city into a skid row."  

Ironically, it is the very presence of the art work, the well-designed seating space, Tedeschi’s and the high volume of traffic that passes through the intersection that has attracted panhandling, vagrancy and, as the degradation proceeded, higher levels of drinking, drug use and last year, a murder. 

Edward Everett Square Meeting Laura Baring-Gould, EE Square artist who created the pear and the 10 other bronze sculptures,  has seen the neighborhood, that she expected to be improved dramatically by all of the efforts of the residences and the artwork, transition in the opposite direction to a more highly degraded state.

"To hear the stories, they break my heart. I remember when I started working on this project, John [McColgan] had already put in 15 years.  Back then the focus was how to bring the streets close together so that people could actually cross the street; how to get the city planners to bring trees into Edward Everett Square . You would come from Richardson Park and up to the square and there would be nothing but asphalt."

Then as the upgraded physical structure of the intersection took form, the visionary ideas of the community looked towards the installation of public art that would communicate to the residents and passersby the resilience and the sweetness of this [Dorchester] neighborhood. Laura remembers walking with Mr. McColgan to Edward Everett Square following the Dorchester Day parade, transitioning into the welcoming artwork [the Clapp pear], flowers and people seated drinking coffee - their dream come true.

Back in 2007 the guys with the squeegees, offering to wash your car windows as you waited for the light to change, acting, she said, as docents for the square, providing an engaging explanation as to why the pear was there - and using it as a way to befriend a potential client in a matter of moments. "Fast forward to 2011 at the time of the dedication of the 10 smaller pieces. There was a woman with a black eye who'd been beaten by her boyfriend." 

For the meeting attendees, one of the artist’s most distressing statements was this:  "Try googling "Dorchester Pear."  The second thing that comes up is a blog that says:  "There's a lot of beggars here. Just keep walking and don't make eye contact."

Mr. McColgan’s opening statement describing the depravity, the skid row condition of the square and the pitiful contrast of  what was and what could be ... Was it really that bad?  Walking through the square, just passing through, ignoring the panhandlers, saying no or not responding to the people begging for money.

Was this really so bad? Isn’t this what Dorchester is all about?  Read the testimony below of several of the many residents who spoke out at the meeting.  Make up your own mind.

It's overwhelming
Things were going okay until the last couple years when we started having a lot of problems - people asking for change, people asking for money,  people asking for help.  It started with one or two people and it is now up to 8 or 10 per day - a constant barrage of handouts.

People are also coming on our property using it for sexual encounters, shooting up on drugs. I found four hypodermic needles in my trash when I went to put it out and on the ground in my yard. It's so easy for young kids to come along and pick it up.

Criminal Behavior

They are also stealing flowers or using our outdoor spigots to fill the buckets for washing windshields. Some of the people get very aggressive in the panhandling.  Some people are very aggressive with the things they throw at you if you don't assist them. It's been an issue for about two years.

There was an attempted rape on the Blake. Most of these issues appear to be amongst themselves. They beat each other up. They attempt to have sexual encounters with each other. They go on our property to defecate and urinate and they don't care. It doesn't matter if it is day or night.  They just do what they want. If you don't like it, too bad.

Calling the Police

And we call the police constantly which can be slow depending on what else is going on, depending on the priority for other crimes going on in the area. It took an hour and 45 min. last week. A gentleman decided to fall asleep on my porch. I tried to wake him up and move him - tried to get him out of there. The police police finally showed up and routed him and they were taking him to a shelter but he refused to go.

Then he decided he had to go to the bathroom, so he walked down the street and decided to urinate on someone else's steps.  That's when the police finally arrested him. This is an issue we have to put up with day in and day out and I don't see any relief.
I want some peace
There is no easy answer. We are working towards a world we want.
  • We want to be able to go to the store without getting hassled.
  • We want to be able to go outsides without having to see people urinate and defecate
  • I want to be able to walk to my house without having to worry about somebody having defecated on my steps
That's the world we want.  The world we have right now is multiple problems. There are no easy answers.

You are right about their wanting to make money.  This is an area of the city where lots of cars are going by.  These people have money issues.  They have substance issues.  Some may have homeless issues.

I invited some of them to come to the meeting tonight because I'm a believer that when you want people to change their behavior, you need to invite them into the conversation. They said no, they were not coming.

Substance Issues No Excuse

What they said is we have substance issues. What I said is I know a lot of people with substance issues who are not defecating on my steps. Perhaps you do have substance issues but it isn't the reason and it is not an excuse for you to have this behavior.

I wish they didn't pee on my steps. I wish they didn't defecate in my neighborhood and where I'm walking.  I'm a pretty tolerant person when it comes to a lot of things. But when I go to the store for some milk or something, and when I think I am going to get stabbed or threatened, I'm not down with that.
  • I just want to go for milk.
  • I don't want to get stabbed.
  • I don't want to get threatened.
  • I don't want to get bottles thrown at me.
  • I don't want people bumming cigarettes or money from me.
I said no because I can't keep people keep giving people money.
Woman afraid
I, too, moved to Edward Everett Square because I thought it was a great neighborhood. I am a huge lover of Dorchester. I moved north from Lower Mills which seemed like a really good move. I'm not so sure that was a good move anymore. I don't like having to second-guess myself.

Starting to Feel Fearful

As a woman, I walk one half block from our condominium to Tedeschi's.  Walking this distance, we are running the gauntlet. I want to bring the feminine factor to this. I'm not someone who walks through the city afraid. I know how to handle myself. I know how to defend myself but I'm starting to get fearful and for me that means something. That feels significant to me.

If I feel that way to me, I can't help wonder if there are other young women who feel that way or older people who are less able to defend themselves. What is the role of the businesses in the square? What responsibility and contributions do they have to the neighborhood? How do we keep the square beautiful? How do we people how to we draw people to the art that's here?
Role model for the kids?
I live in the square and get a clear view of everything . I became a first-time home buyer here because the square had just been done, it was close to downtown and was affordable. I've lived in Dorchester for 20 years and I wanted to stay here and invest. When I bought my place, I got a list of homeowner's rights including the right to "quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the home." And I don't have that. I am missing that right because of what's going on in that square.

Constantly I have these folks coming onto my property urinating, defecating, drinking, drugging, having sex, using my outside water spigot (in back) to fill up their buckets so that they can wash windshields and using my outdoor electrical outlet to charge their cell phones. It is constant, and I don't know why it has been allowed to happen.

I do a weekly cleanup in the square every Sunday which fills up a 30 gallon garbage bag.  Tuesday I went back to just clean up the liquor bottles lying around in the square and that also filled half a bag. 

Panhandlers are Aggressive

The panhandlers are aggressive. They stand in the middle of the street and block traffic. They are high and to most folks walking by, if you don't give them something when they ask, they say things. There a lot of kids growing up in this neighborhood and they are watching this behavior in public every day thinking that this is normal. Don't we owe something better to the kids? Recently, the panhandlers started picking the flowers in the square and selling them on the street. This is obnoxious, pathetic behavior. I am embarrassed to have guests at my house because I know I'll have to stop what I'm doing throw somebody off my property.

I'm hoping we can do something about this soon.   

Rape in progress
I was the one who reported I was with my seven-year-old on the way to school when we saw the rape happening in the park.

"What is that person doing on top of that other person, mommy?"

I am trying to raise a kid in the neighborhood. I can't afford to sell. I'm stuck. There are a lot of families who are leaving. It is terrible for those who are living here and who are stuck here. I would like to see this get to be a better neighborhood.  We have lived here for almost 10 years. We loved it when we first moved here from the South End. We still have a lot of hope for this neighborhood.

But I don't want my seven-year-old seeing these people having sex in the morning. And then he gets to see the police tape in the afternoon: "Mommy, what's that?"

Edward Everett Square MeetingIn covering the art dedication event in 2011, Upham’s Corner News approached EE Square and discovered a uniquely clean and pristine looking intersection but something didn’t look right. 

Linda and her friends were nowhere to be seen. They, who otherwise permanently stationed themselves in Edward Everett Square begging for money, were missing, obviously "removed" by the police for the dedication.  Lining the square on that beautiful morning, the police had carried out to their job of routing the cast of questionable characters.  Yet, these same EE Square regulars were back again the next day and the next day for the other 364 days that a celebration was not scheduled, with no response from the police. 

Pretending the Problem doesn't Exist

Was everyone pretending the problem didn’t exist - on the celebration day or on the 364 other days?
  • This author has gotten yelled at by the police for "jay-walking."  What about the pan-handlers who are permanently in the street?  Are they not considered jay-walkers?

  • The most important point made at the meeting focused on the plethora of grade schools within proximity and the fact that the art, in itself a history lesson, was unavailable to the children.  Shouldn't there be a city ordinance that prohibits such behavior close to a school?
The people who "fed" the beggars from their cars or paid them to have their windows washed or closed their windows and drove on, everyone of these people was a vehicle for encouraging the problem to continue.  Reaching out - humanity - caring - they are human, too.  All of that may be comforting to those who turn the other cheek, but it doesn' help solve the problem.

It is this very condition of "conflict" that leads to emergency situations like this meeting - the bridge repair scheduled after the bridge collapses, the exterminator after the mice overrun the home of a "nice" person who can’t bring herself to kill them, the tolerance of "bad behavior" out of concern for humanity without regard to standards. Sometimes saying NO is the way to address the problem, is the way to offer help and for some people it is the way to hear a statement of love and concern that has always been missing from their lives. 

Moved On but not Very Far

The best known fixture of EE Square was the gentleman (Luna aka Poppi) with a beard who walks with a cane up and down the middle of Massachusetts Avenue just beyond EE Square asking for  money and unstopped by the police.  He has now moved on but continues his panhandling work - moved to NStar at Mass Ave and South Bay Mall.  At night, he walks to Upham's Corner and takes the #15 bus some where and returns the next day to continue his work.

Bob said the police have stopped by several times and told them to move on, that if they continue to congregate, they will be arrested.  On what charges?  Loitering.  "They said it's OK to have a couple people in the square."  There used to be more?  "Trust me," he said, "a lot more!"

Councilor Linehan asked permission to speak to the group.

“I tell you honestly I am taken aback by how much you all have had to put up with this mess and how little I, personally, or we, collectively, in the city have done to try to improve the situation. If this were a different neighborhood, there would be more resources applied immediately to the problem. I am not in any way diminishing the activity or the concern of anybody who is here who wants to help nor with the Boston police or the state police for making continued efforts on all of our behalf.”

He described the many sections included in his district and stated that panhandling is not limited to Edward Everett Square. He met with the Boston police just last week - efforts they could take and new ordinances that could be written. " It's not an easy thing to do because there are First Amendment rights" like sitting in a park whether you are in a beautiful Italian suit or if you look like the worst vagrant on the planet or walking back and forth in the intersection all day long.  "But there are criminal activities that are going on in the neighborhood." 

Councilor Linehan committed to forming a task force to pull the necessary agencies and Police Department together.  "I haven't heard your story and what is going on, and I am remiss.  So I pledge here that I follow through."

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