Billy Bishop got a chill Sunday, but it wasn’t from the biting winds.
As the president of Homeless Not Helpless, a housing program in Hyannis, helped Alan Burt put up a tent outside the Salvation Army on Dec. 21, he saw two men walk by in the cold.
“Two guys I used to live with in the woods were passing by, going to the woods,” he said at a press conference on National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. “Today is a day of survival if you’re out in the woods. I thank God every day I have a roof over my head.”
In solidarity with people who don’t have roofs, Burt, executive director of Homeless Not Helpless, spent a night in that tent at the corner of North and Winter streets (see commentary, page A:5). He was joined by his daughter Shawnna, Doug White of Cape Cod Covenant Church, and Deacon Dick Murphy of St. Francis Xavier Church of Hyannis.
Burt and White joined Bishop in speaking at the press conference in the Salvation Army chapel Sunday. It was a gathering of warriors who have been fighting to get their fellow men and women off the streets for years.
Salvation Army Major Ralph Hansen welcomed the small group, and called attention to a “whole new group” of homeless – younger people – who are seeking the Army’s services.
Town Councilor Jan Barton, who’s led efforts to involve not only Barnstable but other Cape towns in taking action to help the homeless. She reported that Barnstable has budgeted another $10,000 for the effort.
Recalling the eight homeless people who died on Cape Cod this year, Rick Brigham of Housing Assistance Corporation said, “We must never stop caring for those in need, and never stop telling their stories. And we must never stop loving those who do not understand.”
“It’s a day to remember those we’ve lost,” said Cape Cod Council of Churches outreach worker Tom Naples. “It’s also a day to say, ‘OK, let’s pick it up. Come up with some new ideas.’”
The town’s Operation in from the Streets was once one of those new ideas. Through that program, Naples said, “some people are indoors right now who would be under an awning or under the bandstand.”
Suzanne Sullivan, advisory board president for the state Department of Mental Health on the Cape and Islands, protested a reduction of case managers from 13 to 6 in the region and warned of further cuts. “The safety net is being dismantled piece by piece,” she said.
Without case managers to help people on the margins stay in housing, Sullivan said, the needy will keep turning up in hospital emergency rooms. “That is so not cost-effective,” he said.
Murphy reinforced the speakers’ philosophy of helping the homeless.
“The way you get ‘em out of the woods,” he said, “is to love them like any human being.”