Boston’s efforts to contain the opioid and homelessness epidemic at the so-called Mass. and Cass neighborhood are taking a turn into the unknown after officials revealed that temporary funding for both housing and addiction services at a nearby hotel will run out over the next several months.
Boston Medical Center is planning to shut its clinical programs for addiction treatment at the Roundhouse hotel near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard by the end of March because of a lack of long-term funding.
And the money for transitional housing in the Roundhouse’s 60 units will run out in June, hospital officials added.
A BMC spokesman deferred to city authorities on the housing status after June. A spokesperson for Mayor Michelle Wu said the city is “evaluating the programming at the Roundhouse as the new fiscal year approaches.” (The year starts July 1.)
Meanwhile, the hospital, which is also located near Mass. and Cass, said in a statement that “BMC remains committed to continuing to provide a range of clinical services to treat substance use disorder at the hospital.”
A message left with the owner of the Roundhouse was not immediately returned. The Boston Herald first reported the Roundhouse development.
The building, a defunct Best Western hotel, is located near ground zero of the region’s opioid and homeless crises, a crime-plagued area that has turned into an open-air illicit drug market.
The Roundhouse’s proximity to the crisis zone has led to pushback from local residents and businesses. Steve Fox, chairman of the South End Forum, an umbrella organization for neighborhood groups, said his organization wants to see programs such as those offered at the Roundhouse be available to those in need, but “we just don’t want them anywhere close to Mass. and Cass.”
“You need to find a place where they can feel supported and the Roundhouse is the worst possible place for that to happen,” Fox said.
Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, which covers a nearby industrial park, said it was her understanding the housing operation at the Roundhouse would also cease in coming months. Officials have struggled to police the area directly outside of the old hotel, she said, and that has “caused a lot of problems in the neighborhood.”
“Will the business owners breathe a sigh of relief? Absolutely,” said Sullivan. “That being said, it’s my hope they can find housing in other places.”
Indeed, advocates for homeless people and those struggling with addiction hope the city will replace the services offered at the Roundhouse with something else.
“If it isn’t being replaced with an accessible alternative, than it would seem to be a concession to the Newmarket merchants and real estate crowd,” said Jim Stewart, director of First Church Shelter in Cambridge.
Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University, said he thought the Roundhouse operation was “one of the few solutions that has really shown a lot of promise and alleviated pressure” on the problems presented by Mass. and Cass. The Roundhouse has helped many who were living on the streets find stability and get back on their feet, Beletsky said.
“I’m troubled to hear that this very successful program is in a very precarious position,” he said. “It seems like something that should be replicated, not put on the chopping block.”
BMC’s services at the Roundhouse includes a transitional care center that helps connect people living at Mass. and Cass to addiction services such as a methadone clinic and help with housing. The goal is to provide medical care, such as treatment for addiction, so that a person could successfully move into housing.
Another service at the Roundhouse is called the stabilization care center, which was designed to manage withdrawal and intoxication for patients during stays of under 24 hours. Through the center, patients are connected with additional addiction treatment and housing services.
Decentralization has become a buzzword for neighborhood groups and politicians alike when discussing Mass. and Cass. The area is home to a litany of social services for homeless residents. For years, neighborhood and business groups have pushed to have those services spread out throughout the city and region.
Currently, the area hosts two homeless shelters and at least one methadone clinic, as well as the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program and Boston Medical Center recovery programs. An engagement center also sits nearby on Atkinson Street, which homeless people can visit during the day.
Last fall, another engagement center opened across from Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury, a short drive from Mass. and Cass. The opening of that center was part of a broader, 11-point plan Wu announced last year to address the crisis at Mass. and Cass by focusing on housing, health care, and public safety programs.
Included in that plan was a pledge by city authorities to work with health care organizations to create daytime engagement centers in different neighborhoods, connecting people to social support services away from the Mass. and Cass area, where they are regularly tempted by the persistent opioid dealing.
The city has at times struggled to maintain safety at its original engagement center on Atkinson Street. Last year, a rash of brazen daytime stabbings there prompted authorities to shut down the facility. It later opened under a changed schedule and capacity level. At one point in 2022, it served a little more than 200 people per day.
Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.