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Brighter day dawns outside Southampton Street Shelter

February 11, 2022

Cleanup in the homeless facility’s area shows the power of working in a community, labor coalition.

On a February afternoon, there was a familiar scene on Atkinson Street outside the Southampton Street Shelter: down-and-out people milling about, discarded syringes littered here and there, and even a Boston Police Department van and an ambulance blocking traffic.
But there was no more tent city crowding in on the city-run shelter.
Conditions around the homeless shelter had been particularly unsafe and unhealthy — until Local 888 began working with community groups to change the situation this fall.
Tents blocked the trash-strewn sidewalk leading to the Atkinson Street door of the shelter. Drug users were shooting up in plain sight, including in the neck. The needs of Local 888 members working in the shelter were being ignored.
In fact, a man was stabbed to death last August on the street outside the shelter.
“The health and safety Improvements in the homeless shelter area show the power of working in a coalition to bring about positive change,” said Tom McKeever, president of SEIU Local 888. “We’re very pleased to have played a role in arriving at solutions.”
Responding to Local 888 and community pressure last fall, the city hired security guards, removed tents blocking the Atkinson sidewalk and moved about 66 people to more suitable housing or to residential drug treatment beds. Thus, Southampton Shelter workers and the homeless could then walk down the sidewalk to the shelter entrance.
Local 888 represents about 302 people who work for the Boston Public Health Commission, which runs the shelter. (For more on the cleanup around the shelter, see
In the new year under Mayor Michelle Wu, the city found housing for about 120 of the 145 people identified as living in the area’s remaining tents. Some moved into “low-threshold” housing, meaning inhabitants won’t be thrown out for being addicted to drugs.
Then last month, the city cleared away the remaining tents on Atkinson Street and in the surrounding Newmarket Square industrial zone. Numerous street people were ushered into various housing options.
“People have been really glad to get into housing,” Sue Sullivan the head of the Newmarket Business Association, told the Boston Herald. The association has been a key part of the community and labor coalition calling for change, which included Local 888.
Nonetheless, the homeless shelter is on proverbial wrong side of the tracks — even for the much-derided Mass. and Cass area. It’s on the edge of the Newmarket industrial zone. To the north are the ramps for Interstate-93. To the east and only a block away is the Suffolk County House of Correction.
Despite all of the city’s progress with individual drug users and homeless people, that has of course not made the streets crime free.
According to The Boston Globe, the Boston police recently arrested a man they feared was reaching into his backpack for a gun in the area of the homeless shelter. The officers arrested the man after they found dozens of bags of heroin and cocaine and a loaded handgun in the backpack.
The officers, from the anti-gang unit, wrote in a report “that the suspect appeared to have clean attire and did not appear to be homeless,” unlike the other people hanging out on the street.
Police said that the man, Felix Santos-Ejiogu, 21, of Roxbury, was arraigned in Roxbury District Court on multiple counts including unlawful possession of a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm and intent to sell heroin and crack cocaine.