Skip to main content


Union decries violence, unhealthy conditions around Boston homeless shelter

October 19, 2021

Local 888 is demanding that the city of Boston take security measures and clean up health hazards near the Southampton Street Shelter.

Local 888 leaders and members are pressing the case that the city needs to act on health and safety issues in the Boston area dubbed the “Methadone Mile.” The Mass. and Cass area has become known for tent encampments, street violence and the routine use and sale of illegal drugs.
Numerous Local 888 members work at the area’s Southampton Street Shelter — a focal point for problems that is run by the Boston Public Health Commission. The number of people out on the streets has been growing and used needles often litter the sidewalk.
In fact, the health commission is reportedly investigating a case of rat-born disease (leptospirosis) that resulted in a hospitalization. The increasing rat population puts the homeless at risk of illness.
“Overall issues on Mass. and Cass have reached such an epidemic level that we’re duty bound to represent worker safety,” Neal O’Brien, a senior Local 888 staff organizer, told the Boston Herald.
Now, the union is demanding that the city address the increase in intimidating behavior and violence by:
• Beefing up security in the area.
• Having security escorts or a shuttle bus for workers both arriving and leaving from the shelter.
• Providing parking near the shelter.
• Clearing tents away from the area.
As the Spark goes to press, acting Mayor Kim Janey is reportedly working on a plan for the area.
“The union feels that the mental health situation of the members employed there is reaching a critical state at this point,” staff organizer Sean Murphy wrote to the health commission earlier this month. For example, a member was so upset after being spit on by a client that the homeless shelter worker quit.
Even worse, some members witnessed a fatal stabbing out on the street in August. At least five such deadly stabbings have taken place in the Mass & Cass area this year.
Local 888 members “are genuinely scared about simply walking in and out of work and parking anywhere in the area,” said Murphy.
“It’s wild down here,” said Local 888 member Phazon Martin. “The situation has been allowed to go on for too long and to get way out of hand.”
Shelter worker Vanessa Lynch said the health commission “continues to put its employees at risk of both physical and psychic harm.” She said the nearby streets have, all too often, become strewn “with trash, needles, bloody tourniquets, condoms, blood on the sidewalks, half-eaten food, human waste.”
Martin said that the area now provides a “one-stop shopping” zone — meaning there is easy access to needed medical care and addiction treatment along with both legal pharmacies and illegal drug dealers. “It’s too convenient.”What has been needed, he said, are more homeless shelters and treatment sites spread around the state. In his seven years with the commission, Martin has worked as an outreach worker, counselor and housing coordinator.
For its part, “Local 888 remains hopeful that we can work collaboratively with the health commission to improve conditions in the Southampton Shelter area and ensure the safety of our members,” said President Tom McKeever. “In addition, local and state officials need to develop a regional solution to the problems of drug addiction and homelessness. Many of the street people in the area are not even from Boston.”