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Local 888 sparks cleanup of Southampton Shelter area

December 22, 2021

Union’s successes over dangerous tent city seem set to accelerate.

Before Local 888 began a campaign to clean up intolerable health and safety issues around Boston’s Southampton Street Shelter, the workers there were nearly invisible to the general public. The tent city surrounding the shelter kept growing.
Local 888 members’ needs were being ignored — by the city and the mainstream media. Tents blocked the sidewalk leading to the Atkinson Street door of the shelter. It could be impossible to even walk to that door if a car was driving up the street.
Tents crowded along the side of a parking lot and the shelter’s outdoor space. Street people were shooting up in plain sight, including in the neck.
Meanwhile dozens of beds went vacant nightly at Southampton, which has 400 reserved for men, and the city’s Woods-Mullen shelter, which has 200 for women.
Since Local 888 began working with community groups this fall, including the Newmarket Business Association, the city has:
• Removed the tents blocking the sidewalk to the shelter.
• Hired a security guard for the area outside the door.
• Cleared tents from the sidewalks of the next block over, Topeka Street — blocking the sidewalks off with temporary fencing.
Moved perhaps 66 people from the tent city to more suitable housing or to residential treatment.
Now, soon after taking office, Mayor Michelle Wu has announced: “There will not be any tents returning to that area.” The tents are to be removed by mid-January. The plan is to offer a variety of housing and drug-treatment options,
“The progress that has been made working with our coalition of community groups has been gratifying,” said Tom McKeever, Local 888 president. “Our members — whose jobs are to work with a variety of homeless and drug-dependent people — viewed the tent city as a dangerous environment. It has been like a hell on earth for our hard-working members.”
Health problems have included:
• The buildup of piles of trash.
• The littering of used syringes that union members had to clean up.
• A human case of leptospirosis, a dangerous bacterial disease primarily spread by the urine of infected animals — which include rats. The Boston Public Health Commission investigated the case and warned first-responders of “an increase in the rodent population in and around the Southampton Street area."
The mainstream media could never get the tent city’s location quite right. The Southampton Shelter is on proverbial wrong side of the tracks — even for the much-derided Mass. and Cass area. The shelter is in the Newmarket Square industrial zone, a quintessential spot for sending society’s unwanted. To the north are the ramps for Interstate-93. A block away is the Suffolk County House of Correction.
This fall, Local 888 demanded that the city immediately take such steps as beefing up security for members and clearing the tents from the area. Now, change is in the air.
“However, Local 888 leaders, staff and members will keep an eye on the new administration to make sure progress continues,” said McKeever. “Our members deserve to work in a safe and healthy overall environment.”
For more on the Southampton Street Shelter situation, see