Mayor Martin J. Walsh said on Saturday that the city intends to open a new shelter within the next three months that could serve as a permanent refuge for the homeless who lived on Long Island before engineers condemned the rickety bridge there in October.
Walsh said his staff was working through the weekend to ensure they have a viable plan to house more than 450 homeless people displaced from the island in Boston Harbor.
He said he would not disclose the location of the new shelter until later this week, but he said it would have a number of advantages over a proposed site in a city lot off Frontage Road in the South End, which city officials had said until recently was the leading candidate to house the homeless.
Among the advantages, he said, was that the new shelter would only have to be renovated — not built, as had been planned for Frontage Road — and could serve as a permanent shelter for as many as 600 homeless people every night. He said that might mean that the shelter would not ultimately move back to Long Island and the city could have less need to spend an estimated $90 million to replace the bridge.
“We are working to make sure that the location that we have chosen can be prepared for a long-term solution,” Walsh said during a brief interview before joining a holiday party at a Hyde Park community center.
He said he hoped the new facility would do more for the homeless than merely providing a roof and beds. “We have to do more around programming and try and help people end homelessness,” he said.
Walsh and other city officials said they were taken aback by opposition to the proposed shelter in the South End as well as a new site in Roxbury, where they proposed housing many of the addiction recovery programs that had been displaced from Long Island.
“I’m disappointed in certain communities,” Walsh said. “I understand people get concerned about what’s happened in their backyard.”
He called the opposition “sad.”
“Some people just need a chance,” he said. “It’s our obligation to make sure that we set people up so that they can get that chance.”
But some said city officials have overstated the opposition and blamed the Walsh administration for not acting more quickly, as hundreds of men and women have been sleeping on cots and floor mats in improvised shelters since the island was abruptly evacuated Oct. 8.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous and outrageous that this has taken so long,” said state Representative Byron Rushing, a Democrat who represents most of the South End. “There’s no excuse — really none at all. This is an emergency.”
He said he thought city officials were blaming their inability to find a new shelter on neighbors.
“The only person who can do this is the mayor,” he said. “It’s nonsense to say that this is about neighbors. The mayor has to take people on. He has to be a leader.”
Walsh praised Rushing for supporting his administration’s efforts, even when his administration planned to spend $250,000 to build a shelter from modular units in the South End.
But neighborhood groups repeatedly told administration officials that they opposed opening a new shelter off Frontage Road, even if it was temporary. They said they were concerned about doubling the size of the homeless population in the neighborhood, which has long been home to the Pine Street Inn, a large homeless shelter.
“That location was fraught with problems,” said Liz Cahill, co-executive of the Old Dover Neighborhood Association in the South End, on Friday.
She and other neighbors met with Walsh and other high-ranking officials to express their concerns. She said she worried her neighborhood was becoming a “dumping ground for Boston’s homeless.”
Walsh and others in his administration said they expect neighbors will protest the new site, a city building with fewer neighbors than Frontage Road. But he said he would not let critics derail the new shelter.
He said the city would spend whatever it takes to get the shelter ready, but he did not have an estimate for how much it would cost. He said he plans to ask for help from contractors and others in the community to curb the costs, as the new space would need new bathrooms and showers.
“We’re going to build it,” he said.
He hopes the homeless could begin moving in within six weeks and that the shelter would be at full capacity within 12 weeks.
“We’d probably look at doing it in phases, so we can open parts of it as we move on,” he said.
One potential holdup could be the zoning of the property, but he said his staff was working on a solution.
“I think we can make an emergency exception here to try to speed this thing up,” he said.
Walsh said he couldn’t predict the future or whether it will ultimately make financial sense to rebuild the bridge and reopen the island to social services.
He said creating a shelter for the long term offered insurance on the unknowns.
“I want to be able to build a shelter that is going to be a place where people can have some pride,” he said.