Victory Programs announced to stakeholders on Wednesday that they would no longer be pursuing a lease at the Roundhouse building on Mass/Cass for a 14 to 35 bed transitional, low-threshold shelter at the former hotel just a block from the Atkinson Street Comfort Station.
The announcement by Sarah Porter, executive director of Victory Programs, came after a very contentious stakeholder meeting online last Friday afternoon – one where elected officials and residents decidedly opposed the project.
“Victory Programs is no longer seeking to rent 891 Massachusetts Avenue as a location for 14 to 35 transitional beds,” said Porter in the letter. “The plan will not move forward at that site. We thank the City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the many individuals who supported this effort. But in the end, the outcry of opposition to this plan at this location was loud and forceful, including from elected officials who had originally supported the idea.
“We will stop, regroup, and continue to explore other options,” she continued. “We will count on elected officials and community members who have expressed their commitment to helping both this effort and others similar move forward.”
The program was to be leased for only a portion of the Roundhouse, a former Best Western that was used by Pine Street Inn from last summer to July 1 as emergency shelter overflow. The Victory Programs planned to use part of the Roundhouse for an encampment to housing program – where people living on the streets in Mass/Cass would be provided a room at the Roundhouse. There were no definitive plans for the remaining rooms, though the City was offering Victory financial help to lease the building and some City officials had previously said it would be “immoral” to let the rest of the rooms sit vacant.
That led to many in the community becoming worried that the City might try to establish a third City-run shelter at the Roundhouse, to go with nearby Woods-Mullen and Southampton.
South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox said, upon hearing the news that Victory wouldn’t pursue the lease, it was quite a relief due strictly to the location.
“We’re really pleased that Victory Programs and the City have listened to neighbors and neighborhoods and understand our continuing desire to make decentralization a reality,” he said. “While the program is a good one and one we actually embraced in the Mass/Cass Task Force, the location selection made it a non-starter. We’re looking forward to Victory Programs finding an alternative location and beginning the outreach to those in need.”
Long-time decentralization advocate George Stergios, president of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA), said they were happy to hear of the change, and that there were no hard feelings despite the emotional meeting last Friday. He said that Health Chief Marty Martinez, has lost the trust of WSANA.
“It’s great news,” he said. “We have no hard feelings towards Victory Programs. Although we believe that the location was a bad one for its clients, it sincerely did not, and it, like all the social service providers, thinks of its clients before it thinks about the other stakeholders. The city, on the other hand, has a responsibility to all the stakeholders. Marty Martinez’s machinations in seeking to build another shelter at this location has cost the Janey Administration our trust.”
Porter’s letter followed that contentious stakeholders meeting on Friday, and preceded what was believed to be another difficult meeting with Roxbury stakeholders this month – not to mention other informal meetings being proposed by neighborhood leaders in the South End and Roxbury.
The Friday meeting featured a lot of information sharing, but some frustration from Porter, residents and elected officials.
Councilor Ed Flynn and Councilor Frank Baker both said they couldn’t support the idea.
“It is difficult to support a project when the community process is flawed,” said Flynn. “The residents of the South End and Roxbury deserve to have their voices heard and respected. That did not happen.”
Amanda Curley, of Baker’s office, said the councilor did not support the lease.
“Councilor Baker is not supportive of this based on its location,” she wrote. “There are not enough details and it seems as though it can grow. He supports a program like this, but does not believe that this is going to be a good program that benefits anyone, at this location.”
State Rep. Jon Santiago said it was a non-starter completely.
“From my perspective, this proposal is a non-starter,” he said on the Friday call. “I think it’s best for you to go back to the drawing board and talk to the community. This amount of opposition from the neighbors and elected officials shows that the pathway to success for this is really improbable…This is not the place for it.”
He also said he opposed the idea as a health professional who works with this population every day, noting that he didn’t think it was healthy to locate such a facility so near a troubled area.
Others on the call that objected to the plan included Council candidate Domingos Darosa, and representatives from the offices of Councilor Michelle Wu and Councilor Andrea Campbell.
In her letter, Porter said she believes the program would have worked, but there is too much of a call for decentralization in the area. She said conducting the process the community has called for will result in losing more lives at Mass/Cass.
“The proposed transitional beds would have allowed already identified individuals to exit the street immediately, connect to services, and ultimately move into stable housing quicker under those principles,” she wrote. “Luckily, those beds are only one component of a larger project to move individuals from Mass & Cass into permanent housing throughout Suffolk County. While we continue to pursue other options for the transitional beds, the other components continue and we eagerly anticipate handing individuals keys to their new units very soon.
“Stakeholders, representing the Mass/Cass area and adjoining neighborhoods, made it clear that the City of Boston and the State must first move forward with a plan to decentralize services,” she continued. “They called for additional formal processes. They suggested alternatives like locked facilities, ferries, bussing individuals to Sudbury or Quincy. But, the devil is in the details……and these details can take a very long time to work out. We will gladly engage in each conversation going forward while mourning the lives that will be lost during the process.”