State officials are planning to house several dozen of the people living in the homeless encampment around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in a “temporary cottage community” on the grounds of the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus in Jamaica Plain.
Billing the cottage community as a short-term solution to the humanitarian crisis at Mass. and Cass, the state has commissioned the company Pallet to construct 18 private, lockable sleeping cabins, each with one or two beds, heating and air conditioning, and storage for possessions. The cottages could be in operation by December, and house up to 30 people.
The Baker administration will also contract with a local health and human services provider to manage the community, providing onsite services such as meals, laundry, public safety, and health needs. Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said wraparound services including case management, mental health, and substance abuse services will also be offered.
“The path to stability out of homelessness begins with a safe place to sleep and a supportive environment,” Sudders said Monday in an e-mail to city officials, community advocates, and policy makers.
The cottage community comes to Shattuck as the state works on a long-term replacement of the 13-acre campus, which sits at the edge of Franklin Park.
The plan provides immediate safe shelter at a time that the mental health and substance abuse crisis at Mass. and Cass has deepened, forcing city and state officials to take more proactive measures to remove people from tents on the streets and encourage them to seek treatment.
State officials did not say how people will be placed in the cottage community, though several advocates who work with homeless people at Mass. and Cass say many have asked to be put in housing that provides wraparound services, rather than at an open shelter.
The development also signals the state government taking a more assertive role in the crisis, and provides an alternative to more controversial proposals, such as Sheriff Steven Tompkins’s offer to use detention facilities at the nearby county jail to provide housing.
Brendan Little, a former policy director for the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services in Boston, praised the cottage community as a “bold solution” that brings new thinking to addressing the crisis.
“It shows their ability to think outside the box,” Little said, calling on officials to erect similar temporary housing equally across the city. “I think it needs to be part of a larger, multipronged strategy, but I do applaud the state for starting to think about bold solutions like this.”
But the proposal to use the Shattuck campus could run into its own opposition, as community and green space advocates have lobbied the state to rethink its plans for the property once the hospital’s medical services are transferred to Boston Medical Center in three years.
The Shattuck campus provides health care to vulnerable patients, including the poor and homeless and prison inmates who are placed in hospice care. It has 260 acute-care and psychiatric beds, and also houses a 120-bed homeless shelter and outpatient beds for people with substance abuse disorders. But its buildings are aging.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services has proposed leasing the land to a private developer or a nonprofit organization that would provide addiction recovery programs and supportive housing for the homeless; the designated developer could build new facilities, or refit the existing structures.
Opponents, however, want the state to let the campus property revert back to Franklin Park, at what is effectively the end point of Frederick Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace of green spaces that were meant to ring the city. The Shattuck was built 70 years ago on what was once a tree-shaded meadow in Franklin Park, the city’s largest.
Community groups instead propose the state build a new facility for the Shattuck services at the MBTA’s Arborway Bus Yard in Forest Hills, about a half-mile away in Jamaica Plan and close to public transit.
On Tuesday, Karen Mauney-Brodek, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, praised the state and city for their coordination “to find immediate solutions to this pressing need instead of only focusing on a problematic approach that is at least five years away.” But the group also deferred to its past support for open green space at the Shattuck site and for services to be located at Arborway Yards.
Mayor Michelle Wu, speaking to reporters after her swearing-in Tuesday, did not directly address the state’s plan, reported Monday by Universal Hub. But she said her administration will work diligently to find and foster shelter and housing for those at Mass. and Cass.
“It is clear that across the board the number one need right now is stable, supportive, low-threshold housing, and so that’s what we must continue to explore wherever possible,” Wu said.
In her e-mail, Sudders said the state remains committed to reimagining ways to offer social services on the campus. She said the cottage community “will not interfere with current hospital operations, nor the longer-term redevelopment plans for the campus.”
Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, whose members abut the area where the humanitarian crisis has centered, praised Sudders’ proposal.
She said the crisis has spiraled, with a proliferation of tents and open drug abuse, as well as drug dealing, prostitution, even rape and human trafficking. Sullivan said that the solution most policy makers point to is more transitional housing, and that the “cottage community” would be a first step.
“We never should have had 180 tents there or anywhere in the city, because tents are not a way of life,” she said. “We need more housing, and everyone keeps saying it, but nobody does anything about it. Nobody offers a solution.”
Kathy Brown, of the Boston Tenant Coalition, also praised the plan for the cottage communities, though she wants more details about the type of housing. Brown served on a state advisory group that helped draft the state’s long-term vision for the Shattuck land, and said it appropriately balances the preservation of green space with the demand for housing and wraparound services.
“The demand is great,” Brown said. “It’s such a great need in the community, both the emergency shelter and treatment. We’ve heard that the best way to address Mass. and Cass and other areas is to give people current affordable housing, and wraparound services.”
Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.