Wu eyes Long Island for Mass and Cass help

Tours facilities, says many buildings are dilapidated


RENOVATING BUILDINGS on Long Island and reintroducing treatment there for people dealing with substance use disorder and homelessness could be part of a medium- to long-term plan for the city of Boston to help alleviate issues at the Mass and Cass intersection, Mayor Michelle Wu said after touring the island.

Issues surrounding addiction, homelessness, and crime at the Mass and Cass intersection in Boston have proved to be a flashpoint in city and regional politics over the past year as officials started to implement plans to remove tent encampments and place people in treatment. Some advocates have linked the closure of the treatment center on Long Island to an increase in issues in the Mass and Cass area.

Officials in Boston and Quincy have been sparring as a debate continues on whether and how to reinstitute services on the island, with discussion often centering around the mode of transportation after the bridge to the island was taken down in 2015 for safety reasons. Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch remains opposed to rebuilding the bridge and points to ferry service as one alternative means of transport.

Wu described the state of buildings on the island as “dilapidated” and said it will “take a lot of work to get many of these buildings up and running again.”

The timeline for renovating and restarting services remains murky, with Wu telling reporters that the city is still in “very, very early stages.”

“We know that the immediate, ongoing urgent crisis at Mass and Cass and the overlap of these crises city-wide is something that we’re working to address with our plan for supportive housing, low threshold housing across the city,” the mayor said. “This is part of a medium- to longer-term supplement to that plan.”

Prior to 2014, the island served as one of Boston’s largest shelters for homeless individuals, with access to 450 beds and social services.

As issues surrounding substance use disorder and homelessness took center stage last year, officials in Boston started looking at the island once again as a feasible option to house and treat people living in the Mass and Cass area.

Monica Bharel, a senior advisor to Wu and former state Department of Public Health commissioner, said part of Long Island’s value is its ability to serve as a therapeutic place for people seeking treatment.

“There are ways to provide medical facilities and medical care,” Bharel said on Tuesday. “I, in fact, provided care for Boston Healthcare for the Homeless myself on the island there before that. And there are ways to structure it and think about what patients can come and what individuals would be best served by that environment.”

Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu said as officials start to look ahead to the future, the city needs places for people to go to for recovery in order “to get back into the workforce, to recuperate.”

“The spaces that we saw out in Long Island, I think offer an option,” Ojikutu said. “I think all options are on the table. So as we look at those we’re trying to plan, we’re planning very carefully about what the medium-term could be, which of those buildings could possibly be renovated sooner versus later, looking at the outdoor space.”

The conversation around exploring new treatment and housing options in Boston comes as the city approaches a January 12 deadline the Wu administration set for people living at Mass and Cass to leave the area permanently.

In announcing the date, officials said they would help connect unsheltered individuals with “appropriate services and will ensure the area remains clear of encampments following that date.”

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On Tuesday, Wu said the city has already placed 49 people into supportive housing units and tents have been coming down.

“January 12 was the date by which we believed we would have enough housing available to house everyone we’ve been working with there. That continues to be the timeline that we’re working on,” Wu said. “But it’s not going to be an on and off switch where one day, everyone will still be living in encampments and the next day, everyone will have disappeared. This is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour conversation, 24 hours around the clock.”