BOSTON — A man who made headlines after he was seen driving down major highways in the Boston area is speaking out for the very first time.
Mark Wright is a Marine Corps veteran who became wheelchair-bound after suffering a compound fracture and other leg problems while in the service.
"I went in on a delayed injury in '81 and got out in '85," said Wright. "To go through skin grafts and get that healed up it would've been years and it didn't look right to me, so I kind of weighed things out and I looked [into getting] my leg amputated."
Tracking down Wright was not an easy feat. The veteran, who police had to escort off a ramp from I-93 north to I-90 east, had been homeless for a while, but is off the streets now.
"I would not do that again," said Wright. "I got lectured, the cops escorted me to make sure I was in a safe area."
Wright has been seen driving his motorized wheelchair down the O'Neill Tunnel and along I-93 three times this year, but says he now knows better.
Back in September, a group of Good Samaritans helped him get out of the tunnel.
"I had an appointment at the VA [in] Jamaica Plain," said Wright. "I probably could've went another route. It was just spur of the moment."
Wright says that some bumps in the road left him homeless for a while. He has since found permanent housing but realizes all his experiences are what made him so independent.
"My kids are in New Hampshire, so I'm trying to work my way out of Boston and get back up there and try to go back to work part-time and jump out of Boston but it was [when] I came down here for medical [help that] my life kind of spiraled out of control," said Wright.
He acknowledges that what he did wasn't safe, but now Wright is getting the help he needs to stay off the streets and highways.
"That's risky behavior that someone engaged in but another lens on it is the independence," said Jim Greene, the assistant director for street homelessness initiatives for the City of Boston. "I'm going to get where I'm going on my own power and my own esteem. It's not great judgment but it shows a level of resilience that he still has that has probably helped him to survive on the streets."
The city says it has been working with Wright for months on supportive housing, but his multiple highway scares and his disability made him a priority.
City workers who had been trying to place him in a safer, stable housing situation and were finally able to get Wright into permanent housing.
"I stayed in there the first night just with the backpack just to have my own place, lay down on the ground and I had my backpack as a pillow and I was like, 'Wow I have a key, I have a place, I can go to the bathroom, take a shower,' it was awesome having my own place," said Wright.
Greene says the city has been trying to help people in similar situations as the one Wright found himself in, and about 2,100 people in the last four years have been housed.
"It seems like the city is working on it, but they definitely need more affordable housing for these people," said Wright.
The city says last winter workers did a street count and found fewer than 10 unsheltered veterans and is aware that new ones can pop up every day.
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