Boston’s homeless are pushing for more shelter housing in the aftermath of the closure of the city’s largest shelter was effectively closed last month.
Dozens homeless and homeless advocates said a solution was needed sooner rather than later given winter’s cold temperatures, at a City Hall rally on Wednesday.
Cleve Rea, who had his worldly possessions in a backpack at the rally, was staying at the homeless shelter on Long Island when it was closed because of a shoddy bridge last month. He said dozens of homeless were taken to a warehouse normally used for storing goods near the Bank of America Pavilion, where they slept in tight quarters. He said he has spent the last 42 days wondering what would come next.
“It would be nice to be stable,” he said.
In early October, Mayor Marty Walsh closed the deteriorated Long Island bridge, which connected islands in the harbor with the mainland, deeming it unsafe for use. The bridge is the main access point for the shelter and rehab programs that operate on Long Island, which included the city’s largest homeless shelter.
Liza Green, of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, was angry at the city’s handling of the Long Island shelter closure.
“People are being housed in places where they shouldn’t be,” she said, adding, “We’re very skeptical closed the bridge so abruptly…I think that they can make other arrangements to get people to the shelter if need be.”
On the average night, according to Walsh’s office, about 440 homeless would stay at Long Island, although homeless advocates at the rally on Wednesday said the number of people displaced the night the bridge was closed down was closer to 700.
Walsh’s office has estimated it could cost $80 million and take up to five years to fix the bridge. In early October, the city indicated it had the facilities to shelter about 500 homeless.
However, Tara Cipriano, a CPA who suffered from mental health problems and stayed on Long Island this summer, say lawmakers are not appreciating the urgency and size of the problem.
“Do you remember the ice bucket challenge? Do you remember how cold that is?” she asked. “Temperatures outside are reaching that level right now and people have to spend all night, outside.”
Lisa Marie Jenkins, a 52-year-old patient care assistant who is sometimes forced to sleep in a wooded area in Jamaica Plain when she can’t find a place to stay, said she now checks a certain heating grate each morning to make sure her friends that sleeps there is still alive.
“This is the bottom. The bottom of the pit,” she said. “It could be you one day. You’re a paycheck away from being just like us.”