The move by two Gloucester police officers to clear out five apparent “camps” that had been makeshift homes to growing local homeless population once again shines a spotlight on a need that can’t effectively be met even by expanding the number of beds at Action Inc.’s Main Street facility, the city’s only residential shelter.
Yet it’s important to note that officers Officers Brian Aiello, Chris Genovese and a crew from the Department of Public Works weren’t attacking the issue from the perspective of stand-in social service providers. And homelessness, in and of itself, is not a crime.
It is, in fact, a significant public safety issue given the growing evidence cited by Aiello that this demographic of homeless people have been coming from the camps, and — while often drunk and disorderly — creating problems in the city. That cannot be acceptable to any Gloucester residents or officials, regardless of their compassion.
Why has Gloucester seemingly become a destination point for people who are homeless, yet are prone to excessive drinking and rowdiness? Aiello is likely onto something when he notes that, while Action Inc. is making efforts to address neighborhood and other community concerns, the fact that it is indeed a “wet” shelter — meaning it accepts those who have been drinking — may be giving the city unwanted appeal.
As we have noted previously, the issues of homelessness are complex, and there is no clear solution for Gloucester or any other community. But compassion cannot trump the need to preserve public safety. And if Action’s policies are indeed fueling these public safety hazards, it’s time those acceptance polices are revisited.
The police officers and DPW crews in this sweep deserve a round of kudos and thanks. But they can’t be making the same rounds every night.