fb-pixelAdvocates mark one year since Long Island Bridge closing - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Advocates mark one year since Long Island Bridge closing

Brenda Jarvis, who was on Long Island the day it was evacuated, spoke to a group of demonstrators at City Hall Plaza.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Several dozen advocates converged outside Boston City Hall on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the closing of the Long Island Bridge and to demand more action from Mayor Martin J. Walsh to help homeless families.

"Marty Walsh! Get a clue. We expect more support from you,'' they shouted.

The advocates for the homeless then marched to the State House to protest a proposal by Governor Charlie Baker that would narrow eligibility for state-funded emergency housing, a move they say could leave some of the state's most vulnerable on the streets. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has essentially scuttled that plan.


Cleve Rea, a spokesman for the rally's organizer, Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, said the advocates wanted to bring their message to the front steps of City Hall to press city officials on the issue.

"We needed to commemorate that horrible day, Oct. 8, 2014,'' Rea said, referring to the day the bridge closed, cutting off access to the city's largest shelter for the homeless and forcing its closing. "We need to talk about all the progress that was made and all the work that needs to be done for detox and recovery."

Walsh, who was attending a meeting on climate change Thursday in Washington, D.C., said in a statement the plight of the homeless has been a priority for his administration. He noted that the city recently completed a plan to end chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans by 2018.

"A year ago, we made the painful but necessary decision to shut down the Long Island Bridge. That day was a turning point,'' Walsh said in the statement. "It allowed us to look at the services we offered and figure out how to make them better so that Boston is a city that leaves no one behind."

But Rea and other advocates are demanding the city improve shelter services and increase capacity for people struggling with homelessness and opioid addiction. Advocates also want the city to reopen substance abuse treatment programs once housed on Long Island and provide permanent housing.


"My guess is there is not a political will to address these issues,'' Rea said.

Sheila Dillon, director of the city's Department of Neighborhood Development, said officials have devoted the past seven months to building a new shelter, finding new locations for detox programs, and working to ensure homeless citizens are safe.

She said officials have now moved to the second phase in their effort to tackle the issue by drafting a new housing plan.

"We are starting to implement that,'' Dillon said. "We are really terminating our old delivery system of homeless services and housing. And we are completely redesigning it so that people have a much shorter housing stay and are getting housed much more quickly and deliberately."

Walsh ordered the closing of the Long Island Bridge a year ago after a consultant hired by the city to inspect the span deemed it structurally unsafe.

The closing and a hurried evacuation forced hundreds of homeless and recovering addicts to cross the dangerously decayed bridge one final time. The shelter and nearly a dozen recovery programs stationed on Long Island were shuttered.

About 700 people who lived on the island were displaced.

Mayor Marty Walsh ordered the closing of the Long Island Bridge a year ago.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File

Since the bridge's closing, more than 100 recovery and detox beds have yet to be replaced, and many former residents have bounced between programs and continue to struggle with the emotional toll of the island's closure.


While the city has spent tens of millions of dollars to rebuild the services once located on Long Island, officials have yet to replace the 47 residential addiction-treatment beds for women at Joelyn's Family Home, a halfway house.

Walsh defended the city's efforts, saying that in less than a year it built a state-of-the-art shelter with space for housing services, case management, health care, and mental health and addiction counseling.

"But we know that there is so much more to do. Homelessness is worsening throughout the region,'' Walsh said.

Walsh said that to achieve the goal of ending chronic homelessness, city officials will "completely change the way we deliver services to the homeless community."

That includes adopting a housing-first model, using innovation to streamline the way the city connects homeless individuals with housing, and creating new units of permanent supportive housing, the mayor said.

David Abel of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.