How many of these Obamavilles will sprout across the landscape before we act?
After peddling donated books in Harvard Square each day, Kenneth O’Brien packs up his belongings and family and heads around the corner to a city-owned park, where he sets up for the night.
As darkness falls, O’Brien and his girlfriend, Earlene French, prepare for bed in a new encampment in Flagstaff Park staked out by the homeless, who huddle under tents while the bright lights of vehicles swirl around them.
“This is where we want to be,’’ O’Brien said.
Recently, the camp, located at a park at the junction of Garden Street and Massachusetts Avenue, has been a source of intrigue among passersby and on YouTube, where videos proclaim a new tent city rising at Harvard’s front doors.
The camp has also placed Cambridge authorities in a quandary as they wrestle with the legality of removing harmless homeless people from public land and with the question of what to do with O’Brien, a longtime Harvard Square fixture who has wrangled with them on other issues.
Longtime fixture? How long?
O’Brien, 56, has been on the streets for 35 years. He met French, known as Frenchie, five years ago when he was panhandling in the square. She eventually joined him on the streets, and the two formed a family with their dog, Penny, who was rescued from a puppy mill, and their cat, Charlie, who was found on the busy streets of Harvard Square.
They run Almost Banned, a sidewalk book table that the city shut down earlier this year. But O’Brien reopened the Harvard Square business soon after, hoisting a brightly colored sign on a pole daring authorities to close it again.
The book table, where books sell for $2 each, is their lifeline.
When they lost their apartment in February, they camped under the table in Harvard Square for a few months until they decided to pitch a tent around the bend at the quiet Flagstaff Park.
Typical Glob journalism: he’s been on the street either 35 years or eight months, depending on which paragraph you read. And how can Flagstaff Park be “quiet” with all those vehicles “swirling about them”? Come on. Edit much? I know the corner well, and quiet it ain’t.
Look, Cambridge is entitled to run its affairs as it wishes, and if it wants to keep its parks and public spaces clear of tents, I support that. But this is typical liberal wishy-washy thinking: we love the homeless, especially when they break our laws. He himself admits he’s there by choice, so what’s wrong with the community choosing to evict him and his mate and his dog and his cat and his tent—their whole unsightly mess—from city ground?
It’s what they do:
Cambridge, known for its prestigious institutions and intellectual flavor, also has a growing reputation as a haven for the homeless.
The Cambridge area has seen its homeless population increase by 33 percent, from 487 in 2008 to 651 in 2009, officials say.
Panhandlers flock to high-traffic areas in Central and Harvard squares. Others, including those weary of shelters, have been pitching tents in the woods, behind buildings, and in public parks in a struggle for autonomy.
The homeless are also finding the Cambridge Common very attractive, especially at night when it is not heavily traveled, Helberg said. But residents began complaining, and over the summer police cleared a band of homeless people who were sleeping there.
So far, however, authorities have left O’Brien and his friends alone.
“We don’t do the Common, because the Common is a drinking crowd, and we don’t do that here,’’ O’Brien said.
See? Even this guy thinks he’s too good for the common riff-raff. Why should the likes of Lawrence Tribe and Skip Gates be bothered with his mangy dog and his scurvy cat? And if they’re fine with him, why did they run off the rummies on the Common? Can’t a homeless man unwind at the end of a day?