Skeptical residents fed up with the day-to-day realities at the heart of the Boston’s opioid crisis, in an area known as Mass. and Cass, peppered city officials and public health authorities with questions during a Monday meeting about a plan to turn a nearby hotel into temporary housing and a medical clinic for those living on the streets.
Authorities want to open two clinical programs and a transitional housing program at the Roundhouse hotel to combat the humanitarian crisis near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
At Monday’s virtual meeting, hosted by a community organization calling itself the South End-Newmarket-Roxbury Working Group on Addiction, Recovery, and Homelessness, the inquiries were various and pointed.
What is the timeline for programs to be up-and-running at the Roundhouse? How will the people be able to get clean at the Roundhouse, when they will be living near the open-air narcotics market at Mass. and Cass? What will the Roundhouse offer that isn’t already being offered?
Can Boston Medical Center simply host services proposed for the Roundhouse in already existing medical buildings on its campus? Will the services at the Roundhouse be permanent? Will there be separate sections of the hotel for women? What about launching a ferry service to a recovery campus on Long Island?
Boston Medical Center wants to open a transitional care center in the hotel, a former Best Western, that would provide visit-based services to the homeless living at Mass. and Cass, and link patients to a methadone clinic and connect them with suitable beds. The plan calls for the opening of a stabilization care center that would provide a place to monitor and care for patients on a short-term basis.
Through the center, patients would be connected with additional addiction treatment and housing services. This center would have dedicated chairs and beds for managing withdrawal and intoxication and would be open 24/7.
The Roundhouse also would offer so-called low-threshold transitional beds, which would serve as a safe place while patients waited for treatment and permanent housing, both of which can take a long time to secure. Sixty beds would be phased in over time, according to the plan.
Mayor Michelle Wu spoke of transforming the Mass. and Cass area during the meeting, saying the goal is to connect the people living in its homeless encampments to services and to remove the tents. She emphasized that the Roundhouse was only one part of a citywide plan to address Mass. and Cass, details of which she expected to unveil later this week.
“This is still very much supposed to be a temporary situation,” she said of the Roundhouse plan.
She said her administration scoped out Long Island Monday and is going through the process of assessing buildings on the island and transportation options to get people there. But Long Island is not an immediate solution for the urgent problems of Mass. and Cass, said Wu.
Whether Wu’s plan will quell frustrations of residents and businesses remains to be seen. There was little-to-no support of the Roundhouse plan during Monday’s Zoom meeting, and the complaints were multiple: safety concerns preventing children from playing, public defecation, repeated car break-ins, and public sex acts.
Several residents flatly opposed the Roundhouse plan, saying it runs counter to the city’s talk of decentralization of social services. The Mass. and Cass area has long had a homeless population and been home to a hub of such services.
“This just has disaster spelled all over it,” said Christopher Corey of the Roundhouse plan.
Domingos DaRosa wanted to know how long it would take to retrofit the Roundhouse for the planned BMC operation.
“It sounds like it’s already a done deal,” he said.
Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, was concerned the city was not getting at the root problems of Mass. and Cass.
“Until we stop the open-air drug trade down there nothing is going to change,” she said.
Yahaira Lopez described Mass. and Cass as a disaster the city has to own.
“When are we going to talk about the impact of this unmanaged crisis on the community and how it’s impacting the quality of life of our children?” she asked.
Steve Fox, chairman of the South End Forum, an umbrella organization for neighborhood organizations in that part of Boston, mentioned that the state was able to erect a cottage community at the Shattuck Hospital campus for those living on Mass. and Cass in a relatively short period of time.
He proposed the city consider other parcels to build similar cottage communities and only use the Roundhouse to address the immediate need of shelter for the homeless from the winter elements during the next few months. He thought BMC should offer services it has proposed for the Roundhouse on the hospital’s campus.
Wu said the city was considering parcels for cottage communities and added that the Shattuck cottages were expected to be up and running in coming weeks.
BMC officials said the Roundhouse operation was intended to be transitional in nature, a place where people could stabilize their life before moving onto other programs. People coming off the streets, they said, often need extensive support to do well in housing.
The approaching winter has added an urgency to the plight of people living in ramshackle shelters and tents on the streets after a tent city was erected at Mass. and Cass earlier this year.