We Are Not Worthless People by Julie Greene, an official complaint to the Town of Watertown, MA July 31, 2013

I walked into the town offices with Puzzle.  I was bewildered.  I didn’t know which office was which.  All I could think of was the mantra that repeated in my head, “Never, ever shut up.”  And that I will never do.  I told myself that today I am changing the world.  Maybe in a small way, but I am doing something good and I can remember this.  I remembered the shrink who told me my degree in writing was worthless.  Well, shrink, I don’t think so.  I finally picked an office at random and handed the clerk the envelope.  She asked me if this was an official complaint.  I said, “I guess so,” and she stamped it and wrote down my phone number.  Here is the writing that was inside:

We Are Not Worthless People

by Julie Greene

Apartment xxx , Woodland Towers ,Watertown, MA

July 31, 2013

I live in pubic housing. The name of this place is Woodland Towers, and I’ve lived here now five years. I live at the end of the hall, and don’t know the names of my neighbors. My neighbors speak many colorful languages, including Armenian, Russian, and Chinese. I often wonder about the stories of these people. My neighbors don’t know me, and they don’t know that I’m a writer. I keep that little fact to myself.

It saddens me that there are eight stories of people in this building who will live and die and their stories may never be told. What are these stories? The writer in me often speculates about what it’s like to wake up in the morning at Woodland Towers for my neighbors, people I don’t even know:

“I can’t wash my dishes in this water. It’s only tepid. I’m afraid to complain.”

“I had to go to the job interview without a shower because the water wasn’t hot enough to bathe. I didn’t get the job.”

“The nurse said, ‘If you continue to skip showers, you’ll have to go to a nursing home.’ I can’t explain it the hot water problem to her, because I don’t speak English well enough.”

Yes, this all speculation, but the truth is that we are not worthless here. We are living human beings. Yes, perhaps we do not earn a paycheck. Most of us did at one time. The government loves to cram it down our throats the fact that they don’t enjoy sending out to us the pittance of minimal pay that they dole out to us, and in this way, the checks they send us are little messages to us that we are a nuisance to them and they’d love to be rid of us, the sooner the better. It’s not exactly comfortable knowing that you are a squatter.

This is why I write. To bring to life stories that would otherwise go untold. We are not worthless here.

By being lax about repairing our hot water, the Watertown Housing Authority is giving us a very clear message that our lives and health are not very important at all. They are telling us we’re just dust to be tossed out somewhere, something no one wants to deal with.

I believe the Watertown Housing Authority has known that the problem has existed for quite some time and has done nothing about it. I do know that the hot water problem has been going on for months and that other neighbors have gone for days without showers. It is time to act. I will not stand by and continue to see people be treated like they are worthless.

So I am asking the Watertown Housing Authority, please, We Need Hot Water. This means 24-hour access to hot water. Not hot water that only works some of the time.

Julie Greene, [my address]

CC: Town of Watertown

Watertown, MA

Feedback and comments welcome!