Social Issues

Civil Legal Aid In Danger, Advocates Say

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Wednesday, February 23, 2011
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Feb. 23, 2011

BOSTON — Massachusetts attorneys are pushing lawmakers to preserve funding for civil legal aid to poor residents.

On Tuesday, over 300 lawyers rallied at the State House to make the case for civil legal aid. They worry that lawmakers might try to cut legal services for the poor in order to help close a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

Unlike criminal defense for the poor, which is constitutionally required, civil legal aid refers to a variety of non-criminal matters. 

Natasha Torres, of Oxford, says her family turned to legal aid when her mother fell victim to a predatory lender, then lost her job and couldn't keep up with the mortgage. 

Torres says that without the help of legal aid, she would have been evicted from her home. "I already had a letter of auction for my home.  They’re the ones who put the stop to the auction, and that’s how we kept moving forward, after that,” Torres said.

Bob Sable, the executive director of Greater Boston legal services, says he's worried about people like the Torres family.
 
"The hard truth is that for every client like Ms. Torres, we usually turn somebody away because we just don’t have the resources,” Sable said.  

Sable says the main source of funding for civil legal aid is interest payments on lawyers' trust accounts.  Since that's been going down, he's particularly concerned about state funding. 
 
Governor Patrick wants to keep state funding for civil legal aid at $9.5 million next year. Sable says that's not enough to solve the funding crisis, but it's workable.  Advocates warn that the House or Senate could still decide to cut funding down the road. 
 
The House budget is due in April.

Boston Divided On Condoms In BPS

By Jared Bowen   |   Tuesday, February 15, 2011
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Feb. 15, 2011
 

BOSTON — Some recent studies show that teenagers learn more about sex through media like magazines and TV shows than from reliable sources. That’s the reason, some say, that schools should become involved — most noticeably in making condoms available to sexually active students.
 
The debate over condoms in schools has long raged. What’s new, though, is the culture fueling  it.
 
“The environment for young people is there is lots of media, lots of advertising that really focuses on sex,” said Patricia Quinn, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.
 
Take the new MTV show Skins, which notoriously lost advertisers recently for depicting randy young teenagers living for and around sex. Perhaps realizing the fact behind the fiction, the Boston City Council hears arguments Tuesday on the availability of condoms in Boston’s public high schools.
 
Patricia Quinn of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy is working with fellow organizations and teenagers in Boston to provide students full access to condoms in tandem with education programs.
 
“Every survey that’s ever been done, parents overwhelmingly support comprehensive sexuality education for their kids and they overwhelmingly support school as a place for that to happen,” Quinn said.
 
Here in Boston, she said, the numbers have people paying attention. 70 percent of 18-year-olds say they've had sex — and many of them report being sexually active before they turn 15 or 16 — some as young as 12. Half of them have had three or more partners. And cases of chlamydia are up 70 percent.
 
Despite those figures, some people Greater Boston spoke to remain cool on condoms.
 
“Oh, dead set against it. They’re too young. They should wait until at least 18,” said one respondent.
 
“I feel like if you give them access it’s promoting sex,” said another.
 
Others said teenagers who choose to have sex should have access to protected.

“If they want to do it, they can do it as long as they’re protected,” one person sad.
 
“Regardless, they’re going to get into it. It’s high school," added another.
 
Condom proponents say it’s the lack of sexual education and awareness that make protection necessary — and they’ll argue that for the lack of education, school is the perfect place to go for condoms. 

Your voice: Do you think condoms should be more widely available in public schools?

Update: Cambridge Gallery Shows Work Of Bruce Stuart

By Phillip Martin   |   Monday, January 24, 2011
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A shot from Bruce Stuart's exhibition at the Pierre Menard Gallery. (Phillip Martin/ WGBH)

Jan. 24, 2011

BOSTON — Bruce Stuart, who spent 10 years living on the streets of Harvard Square, has a home now.

And over the weekend, drawings by this Vietnam veteran, profiled last week in WGBH's series "Recognizing Bruce," were exhibited at an art gallery in Harvard Square. 
 
Etchings by Bruce Stuart now hang on the wall of the Pierre Menard Gallery in an exhibition titled “Bruce Stuart, Oneiric Cartographies,” a phrase pertaining to dreams.  

Over the course of the exhibition's Saturday night opening reception, about fifty people braved the cold to view Stuart’s work.

Dan McLaughlin, a Somerville based artist, was one of them. 

"It was beautiful.  Really generous, really involved. I think that calling it Oneiric Cartographies, it is like a dream. It’s a  a very particular dream. And it was really beautiful to enter into it," McLaughlin said. "And I was really glad for the generosity in him showing it. It’s really something."

 

The exhibition is open to the public until February 8th at the Pierre Menard Gallery. 

Study Finds Renters' Worries Impacts Health

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Friday, January 21, 2011
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Jan. 21, 2011

BOSTON - Researchers from the Boston Medical Center say families struggling to pay the rent make trade-offs that could harm their own health, and the health of their children. Megan Sandel, a pediatrician and researcher at the Boston Medical Center, says the extent of the problem is striking.

"We're talking about families that are four times as likely to report that they are cutting back on their kid's meals on a regular basis, as compared to families that are regularly houses... and twice as much as families who are in shelters," says Sandel.

The report finds that when a family falls behind on rent or mortgage payments, children are at risk for poor health, increased hospitalization, developmental delays, and shorter stature - which is a sign of malnutrition.

The report calls for lawmakers to increase spending on affordable housing and rental assistance vouchers. State representative Kevin Honan, the chairman of the Housing Committee, doesn't believe those funds are forthcoming given Massachusetts' budget woes.

"We have a group of folks who advocate strongly for more funding, but it's tough to be optimistic in this climate. These are very difficult times," says Honan.

Advocates say the State's affordable housing and homelessness budget has gone down 13% over the past three years. Although Gov. Deval Patrick says housing is one of his priorities, even more cuts are expected when he presents his budget at the end of the month.
 

A Home For Bruce And His Art

By Phillip Martin   |   Thursday, January 20, 2011
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Jan. 21, 2011

Communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are dealing with a rise in homelessness, which had been on the decline until 2007. In its recent annual report, the U.S. Conference of Mayors warned of a permanent homeless population in urban areas, including Boston, unless urgent steps were taken. For families, unemployment was the leading cause of homelessness in the surveyed cities; for individuals it was the lack of affordable housing. Regardless of the cause, homelessness has a deep impact on self-esteem.

Bruce Stuart knows this first hand.  Stuart  is a homeless U.S. army veteran, whom we have been profiling this week in a special series titled “Recognizing Bruce”.  But now, his life is changing.

CAMBRIDGE — For the past ten years or so, Bruce Stuart has lived his life traveling between three places, all within a one-mile radius of each other.  His day begins on a wooden bench outside of Darwin’s café on Cambridge Street, where he sleeps, then continues on a busy sidewalk in Harvard Square, where he asks strangers for money. And, finally, at Peet’s Coffee shop in the Square, he draws and etches abstract images, inspired by the people around him and events long ago. 

“Maybe (it’s) the strongest way I have of keeping memory alive,” Bruce said.
 
In an early morning drizzle, memory is indeed alive. Bruce is recalling the high points of his life. Hanging out with his army buddies in Vietnam, washing dishes at the Comedy Connection where he sometimes joined the comedians on stage.
 
“An elevator operator’s job at Steinert Piano Hall in Boston. And I could wait until midnight when everybody left and we could just go to the most seasoned Steinways.   And just go there and boogie on G Major. Just slow blues and boogie-woogie,” Bruce remembered, laughing.

Ink on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Courtesy Pierre Menard Gallery.

But what could well be the highlight of Bruce’s 63 years is the news the Pierre Menard Gallery in Harvard Square has offered to exhibit his drawings in a special one-person show.  The owner, John Wronoski, saw Bruce drawing one day at his usual spot at Peet’s Coffee.
 
“This guy is an extremely talented, obviously technically trained artist, and if he’s not, he’s all the more interesting,” Wronoski said.
 
But Bruce was surprised by this invitation and is not sure how to react. “I have never wanted to do that until he came along,” he said. He’s still not sure if he wants to do it.
 
By mid December, at about 7 a.m., the counter at Peets is bathed in a reddish winter glow.   But Bruce – usually here with pencil in hand by this time is nowhere to be seen. 
 
Days go by, and then weeks, and Bruce doesn’t show up at any of his three spots. 
 
One night at Darwin’s, an employee named Kate looks out the window at the empty wooden bench. “I think at first I thought he was kind of crazy—when he first gave us his drawings and limericks—but he’s just really nice and I miss him,” Kate said.
 
Bruce’s friend, Mark Blumberg, misses him too. He usually greets Bruce at the same spot as he passes through Harvard Yard in the early morning on his way to work at the Harvard Business School Library.
 
“The last couple of weeks I haven’t seen him there. I was a little concerned because I haven’t seen him and I hope its all for the best,” Blumberg said.             
 
Each year society loses track of thousands of adults and children, who, because they’re living on the streets, are not always noticed when they go missing. Often when the homeless are noticed, it’s because they stand out -- like Ted Williams, whose now-familiar voice has resonated across the country. 
 
“When you’re listening to nothing but the best of oldies, you’re listening to Magic 98.9.  Thank you so much.  God bless you.”

Ink on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Courtesy Pierre Menard Gallery.

 Williams was panhandling on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, until a reporter with a video camera taped this encounter and it became a media phenomenon.
 
Across the country, and across history, there have been various examples of stand out talent among the homeless.  There was Jean-Michel Basquiat — the New York graffiti artist discovered by Andy Warhol.  And more recently, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a former classical music prodigy, who was discovered playing his cello on the streets of L.A., and became the subject of the movie, “The Soloist.”  
 
But homeless advocates argue that by paying attention only to the exceptional is to miss the larger picture.
 
“It gets me angry, frankly,” said James Shearer, a formerly homeless man who is the chair of the Homeless Empowerment Project in Cambridge, which publishes the Spare Change newspaper.
 
“We wanted to have our own voices in there, because we wanted to destroy a lot of the myths about homelessness,” Shearer said. “A lot of the things you hear about homelessness ‘oh they’re all crazy. They’re all drunk.  They’re there because they want to be there’ and we wanted to dispel all that.”
 
Shearer says that stories like that of Ted Williams, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, and Bruce himself can be helpful if they can inspire the nation to look at the homeless in an entirely different way. 
 
And, especially if it can lead to finding homes, for those without them.
 
In mid-January, one month after Bruce Stuart disappeared, I received a call from the Cambridge Housing Authority.  Not only had they found Bruce, they had moved him into his own apartment, thanks to collaboration between the Housing Authority and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. 
 
And last Sunday, Bruce gave me a tour of his one-bedroom home.

Bruce says after a decade of sleeping outdoors, he was ready to come in from the cold. 

Ink on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Courtesy Pierre Menard Gallery.

“One winter, without wind chill, it was five degrees. With chill, God knows what it would have been. So I had to just wrap both my two sleeping bags around me at night and  I’d have my thick winter coat and I’d still be shivering.” 
 
Bruce says he never wants to go back to living on park benches again.   Here, at his home, he can draw anytime he wants.  The opening of The Bruce Stuart Exhibition at the Pierre Menard gallery is now just days away. Bruce is ambivalent about the public recognition, but he’s excited.
 
Still, he adds, there is nothing that compares to having a roof over his head;  a place to call home.
 
“I’ve been largely an atheist. But I pray to Jesus, just about every night.  A lot of it has to do with having been homeless. I tell you, I think about it every night.  In fact, the most luxurious feeling I get is having the lights off,  with the TV off, everything off,  and just sitting on the edge of my bed, and ready to go to sleep, with the comfortable warmth in the air.”
 
The Bruce Stuart exhibition opened this week at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Harvard Square. It is open for viewing until February 10th.

WGBH Special Report: Recognizing Bruce

By Phillip Martin   |   Thursday, January 20, 2011
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Bruce Stuart. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

An estimated 15,482 homeless people eke out an often-solitary existence on town and city streets across Massachusetts.  About 20 percent of them are veterans. One of them is a former army soldier named Bruce Stuart.

Three years ago,WGBH's Phillip Martin stopped into a cafe in Cambridge and struck up a conversation with a man sitting alone on a bench. It was Bruce, and he was making drawings of the world around him -- or at least the world as he saw it.   That conversation led to more like it, and to the revelation of a complex human story.

 Bruce's story is not only about homelessness.  It is also about a man who has lived a life of both privilege and deprivation.  It is a story about unheralded artistry. And it is about the acknowledgement of individuals who have grown accustomed to being invisible and unknown.   


Part One: A Man Without A Home

We meet Bruce Stuart, a 63-year-old homeless man who lives in and around Harvard Square. Earning $5 by asking for it on the street wasn't always the way Bruce lived, and it's not the way Bruce defines himself. He's an artist, too.
 


Part Two: Enduring Street Life Through Art

Bruce Stuart has survived on the streets of Cambridge for the past ten years. He says he could not have done it without the help of strangers, or without his art, which gets him through the day. He has also found help and friendship in a Harvard librarian who gave Bruce a few dollars whenever he saw him -- and talked with him about music, another one of his passions.
 


Part Three: A Home For Bruce And His Art

After ten years of homelessness, Bruce Stuart has a show in a Cambridge art gallery, but he's not sure he wants to be recognized. His subsequent disappearance worried friends and locals who were used to seeing him around -- until they found him in a home of his own.



Series credits: 

WGBH's Senior Reporter Phillip Martin reported and wrote this series. Jay Allison was the editor. WGBH's Jane Pipik, Alan Mattes and Antonio Oliart were the engineers. WGBH's Jess Bidgood edited and produced the series for the Web.

About the Authors
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at liftedveils.org.

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