Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Stark Difference

I went to two different, unrelated public hearings today.

It's hard for me to imagine a greater difference between the scope of these two hearings.

The first was at the State House in Boston. As part of dealing with homelessness in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the overseeing governing branch of the government had made changes to regulations and budgeting in regards to how homelessness is fought (mainly shifting funds from sheltering to housing). Some 200-300 people were there, with dozens upon dozens of testimonies, mostly against the proposed changes.

There were families present who shared very difficult and sad stories about being denied approval for shelter or other assistance. Story after story was told like the one about a young couple who after much trying and no hope, ended up living in their car...with six-week-old triplets (who were born six weeks premature). There were pediatricians, college professors, and certainly social workers and family advocates who spoke passionately about what they saw as important steps to help the homeless.

I left feeling helpless. The problem is daunting.

The second hearing was in my town of Hingham, MA. Hingham is a proudly historic community, and has several historic districts in which buildings and landscapes (basically anything in the public line of sight) are regulated to require committee approval for any kind of change whatsoever, including everything from material used in construction to the very color of the paint splattered upon it. These regularly-scheduled meetings involve business- and home-owners having to present their case for changes to their building or landscape in front of a committee of seven people.

The passion of some of the committee members about what they do is incredible - they know their stuff. They can tell you what colors were being used in various architectural periods spanning the last couple of centuries, with specific knowledge about trends right here in this town. It's unbelievable. At the same time, it can be frustrating to the applicants when this knowledge and desire to maintain historical accuracy and appeal come in the way of desired changes to one's home. I'll never forget the older gentleman a couple of years ago who was almost in tears as he requested using synthetic decking on his front stairs so they wouldn't rot out again like the ones his wife had stepped on and tumbled down. (He was denied...he had to use real wood.)

The disparity between these two hearings I went to today was stark. The hearings took place but a few miles apart, and yet their scope was a world apart.

I'm not necessarily placing blame or onus upon anyone at the moment.

Just observing.

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