With neighbors forced to deal with everything from aggressive panhandling to booting intoxicated addicts off their porches, residents sent a clear message to local law enforcement and elected officials last week: Things have gotten out of hand in Edward Everett Square.
More than 50 people, including representatives from the Boston Police Department and elected officials, packed a room at the Dorchester Historical Society last Thursday to air their grievances against a group of vagrants who have made life miserable for some at the junction of Massachusetts Avenue, Columbia Road, and Boston Street. Others came to offer ideas on how to reverse the deterioration of a corner that was seen just a few years ago as a place where history and community met.
“Some people get very aggressive with their panhandling. Some of them get very aggressive with the things they throw at you,” said Wayne Canto, who lives near the square. Canto and other neighbors described a scene where eight to ten individuals hold court in the square’s park and in the adjacent parking lot, drinking, fighting, relieving themselves, and committing other lewd acts all in open view of residents, drivers and their children.
Eddie Debortoli said the people from the square have come onto his property to have sex and have even used his outdoor power outlets to charge their cell phones. Debortoli, a Dorchester homeowner and resident for 20 years, said he has even caught panhandlers picking flowers from the landscaped park to sell to drivers who pass by the busy intersection. “I don’t know why it has been allowed to happen for so long,” Debortoli said.
“We want to be able to go to the store without getting hassled,” said Adam Butler, a three-year resident of the area, who told the crowd he had invited a few of the vagrants to the meeting but that they declined and told him they have substance abuse problems.
Monique Tula moved to Everett Square from Lower Mills a few years ago in what she said she thought was a good move. “I’m not sure that was such a good decision anymore,” she said, described moving around the square as “running the gauntlet.” She said that though she knows how to handle herself in these situations, she’s “starting to get a little fearful.”
Laura Baring-Gould spent years working with the neighborhood and with the historian John McColgan to erect the large sculpture of a Clapp pear that adorns the refurbished Everett Square – an effort meant to celebrate the square’s community and history as one of the first pear groves in the country. The artist said the stories of what’s happening in the square and park break her heart. Between 2007 and 2011, she said, the patrons of the square have gone from helpful individuals who would explain the artwork to visitors to victims of violence and substance abuse.
Representatives from both KFC and Tedeschi’s, the two companies that share the parking lot the vagrants congregate in, attended the meeting and addressed a number of the complaints directly.
“We have every problem you have and probably more because of our proximity to the park,” Dan Whitney, a representative of the company that owns the KFC location, told the crowd. Whitney said the 30 or so KFC workers the company employs are subject to the same pressures as residents. “We’re neighbors, too,” he said.
Tedeschi’s has taken steps to alleviate the situation, including hiring a new manager who they said has done a better job dealing with the vagrants.
City Councillors Bill Linehan, Frank Baker, and Felix Arroyo attended the meeting. Linehan said he was taken aback by some of the stories he heard and called the situation “outrageous,” adding that, “First, we’ve got to put out the fire” and then propose new ordinances and organizing a task force to address the situation. Baker recommended a hotline dedicated to dealing with issues of homelessness in the city and said there is currently no neighborhood outreach program. “If we did something like that for a month, I think we’d eradicate the problem,” he added.