fb-pixelShelter won’t be fully ready until summer at earliest - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Shelter won’t be fully ready until summer at earliest

April deadline can’t be met for hundreds of homeless displaced from Long Island

Electrical wires and other utility cables hang from the rafters of an exposed ceiling. Pockmarks scar bare, unpainted walls. Piles of broken cement and construction tools litter scuffed floors.

Last year, Mayor Martin J. Walsh promised that the city’s new shelter on Southampton Street would be ready by April for nearly 500 homeless men displaced last fall from their refuge on Long Island.

But a tour on Friday revealed that much of the new shelter remains a construction zone. Only 100 men have moved in so far, and city officials acknowledged that the rest of the beds won’t become available until at least this summer.


“Would I have preferred the shelter to be open weeks ago? Of course,” Felix G. Arroyo, the city’s chief of Health and Human Services, said amid the whir of the ongoing construction. “But the only way to open this place earlier would be to cut corners, and we’re not going to do that.”

The delay has raised deep concerns among advocates for the homeless. Several hundred homeless people have been scattered around the city after being forced to evacuate Long Island in October when city officials abruptly condemned a bridge leading to their refuge on Boston Harbor.

“It’s unconscionable and inhumane that this has gone on for six months,” said Michael Kane, director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants. “This is a blot on the city’s reputation. People shouldn’t have to be living like this.”

Gerry Scoppettuolo, a founder of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, called the holdup “greatly concerning.”

Some 200 homeless men, many of them from Long Island, have been sleeping in tight quarters on aluminum-framed cots and gym mats at the South End Fitness Center. Scores of women are living in similar conditions at the Barbara McInnis House, the city’s old morgue, which lacks bathing or cooking facilities.


Scoppettuolo noted that the city has also yet to replace more than 250 other beds for recovering addicts since Long Island closed, which include about half of the city’s detox beds.

“What this has amounted to is great harm to homeless people and those struggling with addiction,” Scoppettuolo said. “I don’t understand why it has taken this long.”

In January, Walsh heralded the arrival of the first 100 homeless men to Southampton Street, and vowed the shelter would be a model for the nation. A blitz of construction had transformed the second floor of the building, where city transportation workers once made street signs, into a gleaming facility that seemed to justify that promise.

But on Friday, about a dozen city officials led a Globe reporter on a tour that revealed how much work is left to be done before the additional beds can be occupied.

Below the second floor, workers were installing electrical wiring, sprinklers, and fire protection systems. Piping was exposed in cement floors that had been broken up with jackhammers. Many of the windows had yet to be replaced. And there was much more work to be done to install security cameras and upgrades to the heating and air conditioning systems.

In a storage room below what is supposed to be the main living area, scores of discarded street signs were strewn across a dirt floor, which until recently was suffused with asbestos.

Discarded street signs littered a lower floor of the building on Friday. david abel/globe staff

There were no beds in sight, or office furniture, or anything that would reflect that the building is slated to become Boston’s largest homeless shelter.


In a statement, Walsh said the city is doing the best it can.

“Upgrading this building into a facility that will have the resources to give people the support they need and deserve has been an all-hands-on-deck effort, traversing several city departments,” he said. “Since this fall, I have demanded that this project is done right, because our residents deserve no less than the best.”

City officials said the work has not exceeded its $6 million budget. They noted that the first 100 beds and renovations on the second floor cost $1.3 million, less than the $2 million set aside in the contract. They said the nearly 400 additional beds and construction of the rest of the building is on budget to cost another $4 million.

“Additional beds will open up as soon as we can make them safely available,” said Bonnie McGilpin, a spokeswoman for the mayor, adding that some could be available before the summer.

She said as many as 75 treatment beds — the first to replace those lost on Long Island — will open by the end of next week in a city-owned building in Mattapan.

Other officials said completing the new shelter has required more work than expected. They also said some materials took longer to arrive than they would have liked.

“The city is doing everything to get this done right,” said William Christopher, commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department.


Beth Grand, director of homeless services for the Boston Public Health Commission, said she recognizes the urgency to open the shelter quickly.

But she said she prefers that the shelter is completed properly, so that it can offer more services than merely a roof and bed.

“While this project is taking longer than we had hoped, we’re doing that in order to make sure we have a full program,” she said.


Displaced Long Island homeless crowd South End shelter

City picks homeless shelter site, vows fast action

Opinion: Help the Long Island refugees

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.