In Memory of Thomas M. Menino, 1942-2014
Executive Director Richard E. Ring reflects on the lasting impact Boston's longest-serving mayor had on the city's poor and homeless people.
Mayor Menino receiving the first annual Thomas M. Menino Award for Outstanding Public Service from Michael McCormack and Richard Ring at our 2013 Home for the Holidays reception.
Tom Menino was not only the Mayor of Boston. He was the Mayor of all Bostonians — particularly the poor and the homeless.
Long before he became Mayor, I worked with Tom Menino on homelessness issues in Boston, him as the District City Councilor from Hyde Park and me as the Executive Director of the Pine Street Inn. We would often talk about the problems of homeless people and what could be done to improve their situations. Tom told me then of his belief that public officials held a sacred trust to care for the poor, that government was there to help people.
This seemed a simple idea, but it wasn’t. We constantly hear stories of politicians seeking to cut services that provide basic necessities for the poorest people among us. Despite the fact that opposing forces relentlessly worked to undercut the social fabric that binds this city and this country together, I watched Tom Menino work tirelessly and effectively for over 30 years to help homeless men, women, and children.
It is no coincidence that, under his leadership, the City of Boston became replete with great public and private social service agencies that perform the necessary and difficult work of serving those in need. The network of services that the Mayor developed throughout his administration for this City is impressive — perhaps the best in the nation.
One of my most memorable recollections of Tom Menino’s accomplishments goes all the way back to 1985, when he held a public hearing at City Hall that initiated the movement to end the scourge of homelessness among deinstitutionalized people with mental illness. It was a time when the state Department of Mental Health regrettably released nearly 25,000 patients from state hospitals without adequate plans to house them. Thousands ended up on the streets, tragically isolated from help. Tom Menino would not accept this condition. As a result, today the Department of Mental Health — much to its credit — provides housing and outpatient clinics to its many clients.
Years later, as Mayor, Tom Menino took a similar intractable position, declaring that, under his administration, no family would be forced to spend a single night on the streets in Boston. He made good on that promise, coming to FamilyAid Boston — then known as Travelers Aid — and working to build the agency’s Family Emergency Solutions program, the safety net for homeless families in the city, which provides hundreds of families each year with safe shelter and social services at any time of the day or night. For over fifteen years, Mayor Menino’s office funded that program to ensure that all families in the city had access to safe shelter and the opportunity to get back on their feet.
Year after year, Tom Menino would venture out on cold winter nights with Jim Greene, Director of Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission, to undertake the city’s annual Homeless Census, insisting each time that “This is about the people, not the numbers.”
Thomas M. Menino was a political powerhouse, and transformed the city of Boston on a multitude of levels. But underneath every word spoken and every decision made was a deep and enduring compassion for the most vulnerable people among us, and an unending commitment to the idea that government exists to help people.
Rest in peace, Mayor Menino. Though we mourn deeply today, we know your legacy will carry on in our city for decades to come.