Sarah Mairi Coyne: We are all responsible for ills of homelessness

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
To the editor:

While the tragic death of Kyle W. Amidon is no doubt deeply and painfully felt by his family and friends, to whom I can only express sincerest condolences, it is a death that is on all of us as a community. We may not have known Kyle, may not have felt pain at his death, may not feel it has anything to do with us and our comfortable lives, but regardless, this death is on us.

Living in a place with an average low of 13 degrees, where the temperature has in recent nights sunk well below zero, the problem of homelessness is especially acute. In Massachusetts, having somewhere to sleep isn’t a matter of comfort, it’s a matter of life and death. Local shelters admit there aren’t enough beds for everyone, and those who suffer from addiction or mental illness are often less desirable guests. But for all of us who live in warm homes, who have excess income, who have heat, who have couches, when we turn our faces away from those who are out in the cold — we become responsible for the ill that befalls them in the freezing hours of the night.

We are naturally uncomfortable that homelessness exists. We dislike the aesthetics of it, the manners and appearance of people we perceive as being somehow less entitled, less deserving, less human than us. But this is not a matter of our delicate sensibilities.

This is a question of the well-being and survival of people who whether we like it or not are our brothers and sisters, and for whom we are responsible. If we are not willing to help them, we must be willing to accept our share of blame for the evil that befalls them.

Sarah Mairi Coyne