By Sarah Toy
BU News Service
A group of about three dozen activists, medical students, and physicians staged a “die-in” at the Massachusetts State House on Friday to protest Governor Charlie Baker’s recent budget cuts to housing, shelter, and substance use treatment programs, gathering together and lying down as a group in the Nurses Hall.
“He says cut back, we say fight back,” they chanted from the ground.
Paul Johnson, a member of the Housing Justice Campaign, said he there to voice his concerns about housing costs in Boston. “There is a housing crisis in Boston,” he said. “It perpetuates the situation of the most vulnerable in the community.”
Cherai Mills, 27, agreed. She was particularly concerned about Baker’s budget cuts to housing and shelter programs, which total $5.9 million. A member of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, she was once homeless herself. She graduated from a Job Corps program in Maine and came to Boston, but couldn’t find work and ended up in a shelter. It took her eight months before she could find enough work to pay rent. She now lives with two roommates in an apartment in Somerville.
“People think, ‘Oh, it’s not going to happen to me—it’s only the druggies, the bottom of the barrel,’” she said.
“It’s anybody. It’s that person who has three degrees who can’t find that job—who may be overqualified for that job.”
The protesters said their goal was to express the community’s anger at the loss of funding and to push the legislature to pass a supplementary budget that would amend the cuts.
Anthony Burnham, the organizer of the event, said the budget cuts to substance use treatment programs affected him personally.
“I was a heroin addict,” he said. “And I have friends—if it weren’t for these services—they would be dead right now.”
Laura Ha, a medical student at Boston University School of Medicine, noted that substance abuse and housing issues are related to each other. “If you have addiction, it’s hard to get housing. And if you don’t have housing, it’s hard to get out of your addiction,” she said.
The group braved one of the coldest days of the season for the die-in, which concluded with a staged funeral outdoors, next to the Park Street T station.
“People will die because of this,” said protester James Cook, presiding over a tarp casket with “RIP” emblazoned on its surface. “There will be blood on Charlie Baker’s hands.”
In a debriefing session afterwards, the protesters gathered inside a building by Park Street and discussed whether the cold had deterred more people from attending.
“I’m happy it was cold,” said Mills. “We chose to be out there when we didn’t have to be.”
She added: “The homeless can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s so cold—we’ll go home.’”