A passionate, spillover crowd of more than 300 homeless people and their supporters packed a public meeting on Wednesday in the South End to demand better options for those displaced last month from the Long Island shelter.
Those attending the even at the Blackstone Community Center also called for more permanent housing and recovery services for the city’s homeless population, not just additional emergency shelters.
Lisa Jenkins, 52, was among the Long Island homeless shelter residents forced to leave with virtually no warning, when the bridge leading to the site was abruptly closed after being condemned by engineers. She said she is now without shelter and concerned for her safety.
Jenkins added that like many homeless, she works and cannot meet deadlines during the day for seeking a bed at another shelter. She also lamented the shortage of beds available citywide for women.
“It’s wrong for women to be overlooked,” said Jenkins.
Another speaker, Lynnel Cox, grew emotional when she said her son had previously been at Long Island and could not seek detox treatment there after it closed. She said he was instead forced to go to Rhode Island, where he still has not found help.
She asked Boston officials if they would commit to reserving Long Island for homeless and recovery services once the bridge is repaired, instead of opening it up for commercial development.
Felix Arroyo, the city’s health and human services chief, said officials plan to continue offering services on the island when the bridge is fixed, which could take five years.
Arroyo said after the meeting that city officials are committed to fixing the bridge but need state support for repairs.
During the forum, Cox and others questioned why more was not done to fix the bridge long before its closure. They also asserted that officials are not doing enough to address the shortage of detox services and permanent housing for the homeless.
“I feel like this is a Band-Aid,” Cox said.
The public remarks came after Dr. Huy Nguyen, interim head of the Boston Public Health Commission, laid out the city’s plan.
Nguyen said officials hope to open a shelter this winter at 300 Frontage Road Annex, the site of a former city-run methadone clinic on the edge of the South End. The shelter, which will cost $2.1 million, will have 450 emergency beds, he said.
Additional recovery beds will also be available at health commission-owned property in Mattapan, Nguyen said.
In addition, Arroyo has said the city is considering purchasing the recently closed Radius Specialty Hospital in Roxbury, which would probably be large enough to house all the recovery programs that were on Long Island.
Nguyen’s remarks were repeatedly interrupted by audience members who called for permanent housing, lambasted the city for its inattention to the bridge for years, and demanded to know why Mayor Martin J. Walsh was not in attendance.
“Where’s the mayor?” attendees repeatedly shouted.
Kate Norton, a spokeswoman for Walsh, said in a statement that the mayor was recuperating at home Wednesday night after undergoing a follow-up procedure for kidney stones on Tuesday at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“He has been very engaged in all discussions related to the Long Island Bridge closure, but was unable to attend tonight’s hearing following yesterday’s procedure,” Norton said.
Arroyo pointed out that Walsh himself is a recovered alcoholic and said he cares deeply about the challenges faced by the homeless.
Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting also asked if they will be able to retrieve their property at Long Island, which for many residents included medication and health records.
Nguyen said a plan is in the works to deliver personal items to the displaced, some of whom are staying at the Woods-Mullen Shelter and the South End Fitness Center.
Cleve Rea, 58, said he could not sleep at the fitness center on Wednesday, since he chose to attend the meeting.
“This isn’t a shelter,” Rea said. “This is a warehouse.”