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    City picks homeless shelter site, vows fast action

    Use next month is aim for Newmarket building

    The proposed site for the new Boston homeless shelter is at 112 Southhampton Street.
    Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
    The proposed site for the new Boston homeless shelter is at 112 Southhampton Street.

    The city has settled on a squat brick building across the street from Boston Fire Department headquarters in the Newmarket area to house many of the homeless people displaced from the shelter on Long Island, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said on Monday.

    Walsh said he expects about 100 homeless people to be able to move into the space in mid-January. He said the building will be able to house as many as 490 people by April.

    “This is going to be fast-tracked,” he said.


    The building at 112 Southampton St., which is owned by the city, lacks showers and sufficient bathrooms and may require a host of other renovations to prepare it for the more than 450 people who relied on the refuge in Boston Harbor. The Long Island Shelter was closed in October after the city abruptly condemned the rickety bridge that connects it with the mainland.

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    Originally, Walsh had vowed to have the homeless moved to modular buildings off Frontage Road this winter. That plan was scrapped last week amid complaints by neighbors.

    The mayor said the new shelter could permanently replace the Long Island shelter. He said the city will demolish the old bridge soon and start designing a replacement. But he has not made a decision whether to rebuild it.

    “Long Island could be repurposed for other things,” he said in an interview at City Hall.

    The latest shelter plan was welcomed Monday by the city’s homeless advocates, many of whom have raised concerns in recent weeks about how long it has taken the city to find a suitable property that could be opened this winter.


    “This is the best solution I’ve heard of all the solutions proposed,” said Karen LaFrazia, executive director of the St. Francis House, a day shelter where 25 women from Long Island are sleeping on cots in the atrium and dining room. “I think the idea that they’ll be able to bring on the additional capacity as fast as they can is really important.”

    LaFrazia noted that the Newmarket building is a few blocks from the city’s intake center for the homeless at the Woods-Mullen Shelter, as well as from the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program, Boston Medical Center, and an array of other public services, including transportation.

    Lyndia Downie, president of the Pine Street Inn, which has been supplying food to the temporary shelters where many homeless have lived since Long Island closed, called the mayor’s announcement “good news.”

    “I know this building needs some work; that can’t happen quickly enough,” she said. “I’m very happy and grateful that they found what looks like a permanent site, even if it’s a temporary permanent site.”

    Walsh said the city has begun consulting neighbors of the building in Newmarket, which include the Suffolk Bay House of Correction, Best Western’s Roundhouse Suites, and a McDonald’s.


    Walsh said he does not expect as much backlash as there would have been in other neighborhoods, given that the building is in an industrial area with no nearby residential buildings.

    The 45,000-square-foot building is now used by the sign shop of the Boston Transportation Department. Walsh said its 48 employees will be moved early next month to a building on Channel Street in South Boston.

    The mayor said he does not know how much it will cost to refurbish the building, but he said the city would spend the money needed to turn it into a shelter.

    “This is happening,” he said.

    Walsh said he has spoken to contractors who have offered to help the city do the work quickly and charge the city only for materials, not for labor. City officials said they are evaluating whether they can add a kitchen.

    But the city still has to work out some of the details, including obtaining all of the permits and zoning to convert the building into a shelter.

    “We’re in the process of working on that,” the mayor said.

    Walsh said the city was planning to build a shelter on Frontage Road until last week, when he said Felix Arroyo, the city’s chief of Health and Human Services, told him about the building on Southampton Street.

    “I thought it was a better solution,” he said.

    He rejected the notion that the city was pressured by the family of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, which has proposed a soccer stadium nearby for the New England Revolution. Stacey James, a spokesman for the Kraft family, declined to comment.

    “Bob Kraft and I had not spoken about that,” Walsh said. “There was zero pressure.”

    Walsh said the city is still looking for a home for many of the addiction recovery programs that were shuttered when the island closed on Oct. 8. He said officials are searching for the right property to house more than 200 people.

    Walsh said the building on Southampton Street will need new fencing, an array of new plumbing, and a design that will allow men and women to live there, as they did at the shelter on Long Island.

    He said the city would be convening a new homeless task force this week with the hope of designing a shelter that will not just house the homeless but also help them find permanent housing.

    The closing of Long Island, Walsh said, could end up being a “blessing.” “This could be a better solution,” he said.

    Among those who said they were happy to hear about the new shelter was Cleve Rae, a 58-year-old unemployed software developer, who has been living with 250 men packed into the South End Fitness Center.

    He said he hoped the additional beds would reduce many stresses on the homeless and improve their “grossly inadequate” living conditions.

    “If it adds more beds soon — not cots or mats — that’s wonderful,” he said. “I’m happy that they’re finally taking appropriate action.”

    David Abel can be reached at Casey Ross of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.