Blizzed Out!

By Ron O’Clair

Ground Zero Blizzard of 2013 – next to the P.I.P. homeless shelter on Charlton Street (Main South).

I’d like to share with you reader’s my experiences during the recent storm that hit us here in Worcester pretty damn hard. Living and working right beside the homeless shelter has been the bane of my existence for quite some time, since July of 1996 to be exact.

As many of you know I have been an active supporter and advocate of reclaiming the neighborhood around the shelter from the forces of depravity that have been trying to destroy it for many years. I have done everything in my power through the printed word to bring attention to the problems plaguing the neighborhood due to it being the area that the shelter continues, despite all promises to the contrary to provide lodging and sustenance to the City of Worcester homeless population.

At various times I have been for and against the shelter over these many years. I also have been the person directly responsible for the property that is adjacent to the shelter as the building superintendent of the commercial and residential building on the other side of Charlton Street from the shelter, since 16 June, 2003.

That responsibility is the prime reason that I became against the location of the shelter, rather than the ardent supporter I had once been. After all, there is a true need for a shelter of the type that personifies the PIP, and there are legitimate cases of people in need through no fault of their own for temporary assistance finding gainful employment and permanent housing due to various causes. Then there are the ones that use the shelter solely as a resource to continue to imbibe in illegal substances, or alcohol rather than to be responsible and pay for their own lodging. As long as they are going to get housing, they see no need to change their drug dependant habits, and continue being a drain on the economy funded by the taxpayers among us.

Part of my responsibilities as the building superintendent is snow removal, and I sure as hell had a job of it this time. I am responsible to remove the accumulated snow from not just this one, but three properties owned by the landlord who owns this building. It is an onerous task when there are only 3-6 inches, never mind the amounts we got during this blizzard of February 8-9th.

I am fortunate enough to have my own plow truck, and am able to plow the driveway for the tenants with it. The sidewalks have to be either shoveled or snow blown by City Ordnance within ten hours of the end of the storm. That is the property owner’s responsibility and through the deal that I have with Mr. Romero, it becomes my responsibility.
Normally I do all of the brunt work myself, with the end result being a very sore back, and a desire never to have to do it again. Sometimes I will hire out for labor to help with the shoveling while I tend to the plowing duties or get one of my friends to help out.

This time I hired two people, Michael P., one of my tenants, and a guy named Joseph who approached me as I was loading up the truck to head out to take care of the other two properties, Oread, and Greenwood Streets.
Joseph happens to be a shelter resident who says he is from New Hampshire, and has Sicilian and Puerto Rican heritage. He said he was in need of money and was willing to shovel snow to earn some of it, so I settled with him for a fair wage and took him out on the jobs. Unlike the people that hold signs saying they will work for food, or hungry please help, this guy approached me in my hour of need with a bonifide request to lighten my load, and make himself some cash money for his efforts. It seemed like a win – win situation so I accepted his offer.

Sad to say, most of those that stand out there on the corners of various streets in our fair City with signs begging for money that say they will work for food in actuality are only interested in free handouts to buy alcohol or drugs, not food. If it is food they want, they eat at the Mustard Seed, the PIP, or the Salvation Army and spend all they connive out of unsuspecting motorists on crack cocaine or heroin.

I don’t know what Joseph intended to do with his money, but I do know that he earned it honestly and fairly. It was well worth it to me to save me from a terrific backache. This was one of few positive experiences that I have had from a shelter resident. Most other encounters are from those that continually trespass onto the private property to hide in the shadows and shoot up, or smoke crack cocaine, and litter up the property with all manner of trash they leave behind that it ends up being my responsibility to clean up.

Most of the neighborhood residents and business owner’s are fed up with the lawlessness that has been allowed to continue for far too long. It is the same people doing the same criminal activity day after day without pause. We see these people, know who they are, and call the police to report them breaking the law, yet nothing ever happens to them, and they are out there the next day, business as usual.

I found myself in quite a bind due to the amount of snow that had accumulated rapidly in front of the building from the storm before I got out there to deal with it. I should have gotten out there a couple of hours sooner. The entire front of the building had drifted over with snow that was at least as high as my waist, and in some spots higher. There was no way I could remove that amount of snow, even if I had a whole crew of Joseph’s to help me. I could not plow it off as I like to do because the snow piled up faster than I had anticipated and it was too heavy for my GMC Sierra to push. In fact I got stuck in front of Multi-Services at 705 Main Street trying to clear the sidewalk in front of my property and the Emanuel Baptist Church as I like to do to be a good neighbor. Reverend Wright can testify that I have plowed or snow blown in front of his property many times in the past just to help out someone else for the satisfaction of doing for someone else without expecting anything in return.

It makes me feel good about myself when I help someone else. This was paid forward to me this storm when I found myself well and truly flucked by the amount of snow remaining on the sidewalks in front of the property. I was desperate for a solution to my problem when I noticed that Spellane Auto Body on Wellington Street was using a Bobcat to remove the mounds of snow obstructing their sidewalks. I thought to myself, this is what is needed to do the job, and I inquired of the driver if he would do in front of my building and how much it would cost if he did.

Well, he was only an employee and directed me to see the owner of the Auto Body who was on Murray Avenue engaged in a conversation with two DPW workers in a City truck. I went up to his window, and asked Bill Spellane if I could hire out the Bobcat, and how much would it cost to do the front of my building which used to house Berger’s Army & Navy.

Bill knew exactly which property it was when I mentioned Paul Berger’s old business which was here for many a year before Paul retired and moved to Florida after selling the building to Julio Romero in March of 2003. Bill and I had a wonderful talk concerning the neighborhood, and being in the environs of the PIP all these years. I told him how Julio worked in the Boston Hotel Industry and drove tractor trailer truck to save enough money to put the down payment on the property, and how he was a native of El Salvador before becoming an American citizen. I also told him how Julio was dismayed to find the building overrun with crack heads, junkies and prostitutes when he took possession. It was so bad back in early 2003 before I took over the management duties that the City of Worcester was taking steps to take the property like they did to the owner of 5 Sycamore Street due to that property being a hotbed of illegal activity.

Poor Julio spent his life savings buying the property, and found himself about to lose it all due to it being a revolving door crack house because of certain of the tenants that Paul Berger had rented too. Julio had nothing to do with filling the place with deadbeats; it was full enough when he bought the place.

Oh the stories I could tell of the battle to reclaim this building if I only could find the time and the space to write them. I had planned a book entitled “A room at Berger’s” but never got around to writing it. I took a stand because this was my home, I had been here since July 1996, and my sainted dear departed mother had once worked at the Spanish Grille Restaurant when I was a boy. I felt duty bound to preserve the building in my mother’s memory.

Well, anyway, this tale is getting too long, I wanted to thank Mr. Bill Spellane for his extending a helping hand to a neighbor in distress, and for having the graciousness to do it out of his heart, and not for any money that I might have paid to him, I thank you Bill, and after speaking to Julio, He thanks you also.

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