Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘We can do something that can change the world’: Journalism student launches initiative to provide aid to Boston’s homeless population

Photo courtesy of @bostoncommoncoalition on Instagram

From a young age, Adam Nuñez felt drawn to help the homeless, especially after seeing a drastic increase in homelessness over the last few years in his hometown of Salem. After moving to Boston and witnessing the city’s escalating homelessness crisis firsthand, Nuñez felt inspired to do something—leading him to establish the Boston Common Coalition for the Homeless (BCCH). 

The student-led club plans to assist the city’s large unhoused population and execute regular distributions of food, water bottles, hand warmers, toiletries, and clothing throughout the city. Students will distribute such items on a walking route laid out by Nuñez, covering the Boston Common, Government Center, Downtown Crossing, and South Station areas. 

In addition to aid, Nuñez, who is a junior journalism major, is passionate about advocacy and raising awareness of the struggles faced by Boston’s unhoused population. 

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness has soared by 12 percent nationwide, reaching a record high. In Boston, the number of people experiencing homelessness increased in 2023, according to the city’s annual homeless census.

“Advocacy is huge. A lot of this issue is getting loud and getting in people’s faces,” Nuñez said. “Nobody cares about something until you make them care about it.”

The BCCH prioritizes education along with material aid and harm reduction. Spreading awareness and knowledge is a critical component in beginning to dismantle the systemic issue of homelessness, Nuñez explained.

“The goal is not only to help the community, but to educate our community on what this crisis is and how we can help fix it, because it is fixable,” Nuñez said. 

With the spread of street encampments and the increase in homelessness, students have been exposed to the crisis on campus and in surrounding areas. Living in Boston, Nuñez said that his inspiration for BCCH is all around him, and witnessing the need all over the city has motivated him to build this initiative. 

Kylie Gifis, a junior visual media arts student and founding member of BCCH, believes education and awareness on campus can be instrumental in addressing this crisis.

“At Emerson, we’re in a bubble,” Gifis said. “There’s a certain rhetoric around homelessness, that they’re all drug addicts or alcoholics. If you were on the street all day, every day in the cold that we complain about just walking to class, it would be really hard to cope.”

She emphasized the importance of empathy and encouraged students to humanize the struggle of unhoused individuals. 

“It’s an inevitable reality that harmful coping mechanisms can manifest when dealing with hardship,” Gifis said. “Becoming aware of this and educating yourself moves past that willful ignorance that people tend to have with issues that are hard to digest.”

Gifis also stressed the significance of conducting individual research and deepening students’ understanding of homelessness to assist them in their efforts to help the community effectively. 

“It’s important to understand the intersection of harm reduction, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness,” Gifis said. “It’s crucial to reframe the issue in a humanizing light.” 

As of July 2023, Boston has seen a 17 percent increase in adults experiencing homelessness and a similar rise in families residing in shelters and transitional housing units. Nuñez intends to expand the communities’ overall understanding of the severity of this intensified issue to address it. 

“At the end of the day, there is a crisis in this country,” Nuñez explained. “It’s very serious, and the city is not doing anything to help it, so people need to step up.”

Currently, Boston’s work to temporarily assist its homeless population includes coordinating with nonprofit and community partners to provide emergency shelter, social services, and housing search services. 

Although Massachusetts is the most liberal state in the nation, topics such as rental assistance or rent control are seen as too radical and economically inefficient in today’s climate, Nuñez said. He described how the U.S. criminalizes homelessness, noting that in the past 20 years, bans on camping have increased 92 percent, loitering/panhandling increased by 103 percent, and bans on living in vehicles have seen a 213 percent increase.

While conquering structural hurdles is a complex undertaking, the group has taken it upon themselves to tackle them head-on. Through teamwork and commitment, BCCH aims to surpass systemic barriers to carry out its mission.  

“As the law of this land criminalizes homelessness, mutual aid groups organizing around homelessness pose a threat to the current system, as it’s an alternative that’s incompatible with late-stage capitalism,” Nuñez said. “The way to surpass these issues is to remain headstrong, and as BCCH organizes with this understanding, it is not so much a question of how we can surpass the limitations, but how we can effectively operate without the input of the same structures that have forced this crisis upon us in the first place.”

Through his determination to overcome roadblocks, BCCH is built on the power of collaboration, and what can be accomplished in numbers. 

“At the end of the day, everything that holds us back, like government structure, structures of capital, economic structures, it’s all run by people,” Nuñez said. “If we can get enough people together, then we can do something that can change the world.” 

The club plans to take its first step in the direction of change during BCCH’s first distribution on Feb. 16. Before this, they will be hosting an informational meeting about the first distribution on Feb. 8. Students can stay updated on the group’s meetings and events through their Instagram @bostoncommoncoalition. 

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About the Contributor
Margaux Jubin
Margaux Jubin, Staff Writer
Margaux Jubin is a sophomore journalism major from Los Angeles, California. She is currently a Staff Writer for the Berkeley Beacon. Outside The Beacon, Margaux loves live music, hanging out with friends, and spending time in nature.

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