On the Streets, the Square’s Homeless Tell Their Stories

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Jade Hosie stops on Mass. Ave. while on her way to CASPAR in Central Square to take a shower. Hosie, a Buffalo native, has lived on the streets of Harvard Square for over 10 months and finds herself depressed by what she has seen.

Hosie says the past year has been difficult for her, especially since she spent much of it sleeping on the street, often out of choice. She says she avoids staying in shelters due to concerns about getting assaulted or robbed, as well basic hygiene issues.

“Around Christmas, I had lice,” Hosie says, claiming that she got it from a shelter. “A lot of the girls from the shelter, they’re all scratching.”

She has also had issues with being barred from various shelters for infringements like not vacating the shelter on time. Hosie describes a night when she was barred from Pine Street Inn in Boston and ended up sleeping under a bridge next to the shelter.

“There’s rats under there, there’ s a lot of violent men under there, anything could have happened,” she says. “It was cold. I shook all night.”

For now, she and her fiance often sleep under the overhang at St. Paul’s Church in Boston Common, which provides shelter from the rain. During the day, she uses resources from programs like Youth on Fire and CASPAR.

Despite the resources that Cambridge offers, Hosie says that she would eventually like to leave Massachusetts. “I really don’t like it here,” she says. “There’s too much homelessness. It depresses me.”

Ken and Earlene “Frenchie” French

Earlene French, 57, who goes by “Frenchie,” says that she has found herself quite literally the face of homelessness in Cambridge.

To French’s surprise, a friend informed her one day that her picture was on a set of postcards for sale at one of the Cambridge drug stores. French went to the store and found that the postcard not only featured her photograph but also a caption reading  “Homeless in Cambridge.”

Ken and Earlene “Frenchie” French
Earlene “Frenchie” French pets her dog Penny while panhandling with her partner, Ken O’Brien. O’Brien said that Penny is the second dog he has had while on the street, and that caring for a pet has motivated him to stay sober.

The postcard is just one media incident among many that French, and her partner, Ken O’Brien, a sixty-year-old Cambridge native, have experienced over the years. Articles on French and O’Brien have appeared in a variety of periodicals, ranging from local newspapers like the Cambridge Chronicle to larger media outlets like

“We seem to attract newspaper people...and school project people,” O’Brien says, alluding to a time when a student from Cambridge Rindge and Latin produced a video project on Cambridge’s homeless population that centered on the couple’s experiences.

French met O’Brien eight and a half years ago, when she was a security guard at Mount Auburn Medical Center. French says she often found herself walking home along Massachusetts Ave. and stopping to chat with and give spare change to O’Brien, who found himself out on the streets from time and time without permanent housing.

“It was the dog that attracted me to him,” she says, gesturing to a puppy named Penny, who is sitting on a blue blanket outside of Leavitt &  Pierce Tobacco on Mass. Ave.