Recently, the Barnstable Police Department compiled a list of 72 social service agencies in Hyannis. The list was compiled in the context of problems with homeless people in Hyannis and the reasons why Hyannis is the apparent destination for so many. It is a legitimate question.
Frequently, the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis has been credited with being the magnet that attracts people in need of shelter. The Barnstable Police department has also compiled a list of about 400 “homeless” people that they have encountered during the last fifteen months. The NOAH capacity is 55.
These numbers are presented in support of the concept that people come to Hyannis for, among other things, the many services that are offered here. The list does not carefully define how service organizations were chosen for the list or the purpose of the list. Everything from the NOAH Shelter to the Internal Revenue Service is listed, including some, but not all, churches, with some notable absences such as Town functions related to paying taxes, issuing licenses, beach permits, etc. which are services that also bring people to town.
What the list seeks to show, it seems, is that “undesirables” are attracted to town to avail themselves of services. In some ways, that is probably a correct assumption. Liquor stores bring both undesirable and desirable populations, but liquor stores are also available in each of the town’s seven villages.
A more relevant list might name only agencies that attract once defined “undesirable” individuals, such as the NOAH shelter, the AIDS Support Group, Duffy Health Center, Vinfen, Champ Homes, the Department of Mental Health, the Salvation Army, etc. and others. Groups on the list like Cape Cod Child Development, Angel House, Independence House and others might be excluded because they serve women and children. And veterans organizations might be excluded from the list too.
We wouldn’t want to have all the agencies listed leave Hyannis. For instance the hospital, the Transportation Center, the United Way, and the Council of Churches because of the important role they play in serving the population as a whole including “undesireables.” So how do we decide what agencies along with their employees, besides NOAH, should leave? Some agencies are in Hyannis, but not downtown. Can they stay? What about the rent that property owners will lose when organizations leave? Will that be an issue? Where will the agencies go? How about the charter schools in Hyannis? They weren’t listed but they don’t bring “undesireable” people to Hyannis, do they? Teachers and students. We like them. They don’t cause much trouble.
Who would decide who stays and who goes? Maybe we should just decide how many we want, say ten, and then have a lottery? But that wouldn’t work because we might lose some things that most people want. So let’s do it democratically: let’s list all the services that bring people to Hyannis and have a referendum. The top choices would get to stay. I come to Hyannis because I can find what I need here. I get my oil changed in Hyannis, for example.
In the end, we would be trying to decide which people we want in Hyannis and which we don’t. Town Councilor Paul Hebert once said to me: “If I become disabled with a head injury I may not be welcome in Hyannis anymore.” What we really want is for people to stop misbehaving in Hyannis and to meet the needs of all constituencies with as much tolerance and understanding as possible.
I have to confess that I love Hyannis. I bring friends here. I lived in Hyannis for 17 years. Three of my four kids went to school in Hyannis, I went to church (in one of the churches on the list) in Hyannis for many years. I shop, stroll, and eat in Hyannis frequently and I occasionally see someone who appears to be down on their luck in Hyannis as well. Not a NOAH guest usually, as they are required to be in for the night by 5 p.m. I like the diversity in Hyannis, but at the same time I recognize the paramount need for our village to be a safe place for everyone.
We at HAC will do everything we can to help accomplish that outcome: a safe and attractive place for everyone. The questions and the answers are at the very best, many and complicated. We can only answer them as a community in dialogue together.