Skip to main content


'It’s dangerous out there'

September 24, 2021

Local 888 members implore city to clean up area around Boston homeless shelter.

The essential workers on the frontlines of dealing with such problems as homelessness and drug abuse are also facing heightened safety issues at Boston’s shelters — including a recent murder nearby to the Southampton Street Shelter. Local 888 members and leaders are demanding the city clean up its act.
A veritable tent city now blocks the sidewalk around the Southampton Shelter, in Boston’s Newmarket district. That shelter is run by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). Located in what is often termed the Mass & Cass area or the “Methadone Mile,” the shelter has more than 400 beds for men.
“The problems in that area are the ones that keep me up at night,” said Local 888 President Tom McKeever on a Zoom meeting. “At times, it’s like hell on earth — and our members are neck deep in it.”
He added that, “right now, we’re focusing on the lack of leadership on the part of the BPHC. At the end of the day, however, the blame falls on the shoulders of the city of Boston.”
The Boston Herald reported that last month’s Atkinson Street murder was “the fifth fatal stabbing this year” around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
The city also offers an Engagement Center directly behind the shelter that is open during the day. Members said that it had become a place for people to hang out — and shoot up— in.
The whole scene is creating more confrontational — or even violent — interactions for the staff, shelter workers at the meeting said. Local 888 members and staff have been accosted by street people eager to make sure they won’t be videotaped — and making aggressive demands.
“It’s dangerous out there,” said Phazon Martin, commenting on the overall area. “I’m not saying that you can guarantee safety out on the streets,” he said. “But members’ cars have even been vandalized as well.”
“I never in my life saw anybody shoot up in the neck before,” said Leigha Earl, chapter co-president. “This is not the job we signed up to do.”
“I want to feel safe,” said member Vanessa Lynch.
The need for in-town homeless shelters exploded after the city closed its Long Island shelter and drug rehab center there in 2014. The BPHC then opened the Southampton Shelter. Also, its Woods Mullen shelter was converted from a mixed population to 200 beds for women.
The city closed the bridge going out to Long Island after the state’s Department of Transportation ruled it was unsafe. The bridge, which had allowed access to the Boston Harbor island, was later demolished.
Long Island had been home to Boston’s largest homeless shelter, with 450 beds. The island had also been home to a 60-bed detox center and several other social programs designed to help the homeless or those battling addiction.
The BPHC also has offices at 1010 Mass. Ave., where Local 888 members include counselors. The Boston agency also operates a Men’s Health and Recovery center, which is geared to outpatient treatment of substance abuse disorders. That 774 Albany St. facility, in the South End, is directly across from the Boston Medical Center’s ambulance entrance.
According to its website, the BPHC is an independent public agency governed by a seven-member board of health, which is appointed by Boston’s mayor.