The infamous Comfort Station on Atkinson Street, which many say has become a place to use intravenous drugs openly with supervision, closed on March 29 for two weeks while the City re-assesses its purpose – a move that has greatly irritated neighbors in the South End who believe the Comfort Station issues will simply once again migrate to their stoops, alleys and gardens.
The City apparently informed the Mass/Cass 2.0 Task Force that they intended to close the Comfort Station for two weeks to implement additional public safety measures and to re-assess the operations of the Comfort Station. The City said it might re-open the Station before the two-week timeline, but it could also not re-open it again too.
Task Force member Steve Fox said he and other members from the South End protested the closure, as they believe though the behavior and activity in the Comfort Station has been troubling, it has also served to move those behaviors out of residential areas with neighbors, families and children. Now, they fear it will come back.
The pushback from the Task Force and Fox was joined by Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) President George Stergios, Blackstone/Franklin President (and Task Force member) David Stone, and WSANA Vice President Desi Murphy.
“We write to express strong opposition to the Boston Public Health Commission’s decision to impose a two-week closure of the Atkinson Street
comfort station by way of response to the undoubted problem of escalating violence there,” read a letter to Health and Human Services Chief Marty Martinez. “The inevitable consequence of losing the Atkinson Street comfort station, even temporarily, will be that conditions accommodated there—particularly pervasive all-day drug use—migrate outward, across Albany Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard into the residential South End and Roxbury. And the drug dealers who prey on the addicted and the violence will come along, too.
“We deeply respect the work of comfort station staff and whatever operational changes BPHC or the Boston Police Department deem necessary to restore acceptable levels of safety for staff and guests at the facility,” he continued. “But we cannot see how closing the comfort station for any extended period advances a safety objective or leads to any result other than both endangering those who rely on it to keep off the street and damaging surrounding neighborhoods and residents.”
Fox said on April 1 that D-4 Police had already seen some new crime in the Worcester Square area, which had become much more manageable over the last several months.
“Today alone, the second day of Comfort Station closure, D4 made a daylight arrest for a B&E in progress in one South End alley, and shortly after, an overdose occurred in another South End alley,” he said. “Thankfully, because a resident was home and called for EMS, the patient survived. We appreciate the crucial importance of public safety at the Comfort Station as well as within our residential neighborhoods. But we cannot substitute one for the other nor should we create a more dangerous environment for the innocent residents and businesses of our abutting neighborhoods while working to find and implement new solutions to address Comfort Station public safety challenges.”
The City did not respond to requests from the Sun for comment on the closure of the Comfort Station.
The Comfort Stations were originally brought into being as the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon the vulnerable populations at Mass/Cass. To help sequester the population and keep them from congregating on the sidewalks, Comfort Stations were set up on Mass Ave by the Woods Mullen Shelter and, eventually, on Atkinson Street in Newmarket. Last summer, the Mass Ave Station – which had become out of hand according to many neighbors – closed for construction and all parts of the program were moved to Atkinson Street. The Comfort Station program was meant to be a temporary response to COVID-19.