With applause from many in the South End, the City announced to the Mass/Cass 2.0 Task Force this week that the controversial Comfort Station on Atkinson Street in Newmarket would re-open on Monday, with some new safeguards.
In a letter to the Task Force, Special Assistant to the Mayor Kim Thai announced that they had decided to re-open the Comfort Station with some safety and precautionary changes.
“We had temporarily closed the Comfort Station due to the escalating violence in the area so that we could reassess operations,” wrote Thai. “The Office of Recovery Services, Boston Police Department and internal departments collaborated to implement immediate additional safety measures to improve the Comfort Station. We will be reopening the Comfort Station on Monday, May 3.”
The Comfort Station has become infamous for what evolved into a free-for-all situation for drug users and drug dealers on Atkinson Street – and until last fall – also in front of the Woods Mullen Shelter. Most have agreed in the community and the business community that the Comfort Station is a de facto Safe Injection Site. However, the situation grew out of control with violence, murders and other bad scenes and the City closed it down in late March. Now, they have decided to re-open it with safeguards. Those include:
•limit capacity to 100 people at any given time;
•uniformed security at the entrance to monitor the area and emphasize the need to follow the rules in the space;
•implement an ID system for all guests who wish to enter the space;
•ensure prioritization of 911 calls from Atkinson Street directly to Boston Police officers on the street into the space;
•continued assistance from the Police Street Outreach in closing the Comfort Station; and
•increased communication between the Office of Recovery Services and the Boston Police Department through the Coordinated Response Team for street management.
The move to re-open the Comfort Station was opposed during a press conference two weeks ago with the Newmarket Business Association and the South End-Roxbury Partnership.
Newmarket Director Sue Sullivan was not immediately available for comment on the revised Comfort Station setup.
Councilor Frank Baker, who represents the area, also didn’t immediately comment.
However, many in the South End favor opening the Comfort Station, as it has improved quality of life conditions on their side of Mass/Cass – particularly in the Worcester Square area. While most of the problematic behavior was once on the steps, the gardens and the alleys of Worcester Square, in recent months it has moved to the area of the Comfort Station and given some relief to neighbors in the South End.
“I think it’s the right move in mid-May,” said Task Force member Steve Fox, of the South End. “It’s the right approach at the right time and the re-tooling of the Comfort Station is great and the right combination of resources to try to make this work for everyone’s benefit.”
At the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) on Tuesday night, President George Stergios said he was optimistic about the move and supported it in the new form.
“The Comfort Station was something the police didn’t know how to address,” he said. “They can’t just sit there and watch someone shoot up because that’s just not what the police do. This is 100 people in there that are not on the street. I hope that if this works they’ll open up another one down the road and then that’s another 100 people. This would be a Comfort Station that is more regulated and not a free-for-all like the one they had.”
In her letter, Thai said it is essentially a temporary plan that is part of re-tooling the Mass/Cass plan. If it turns out not to be safe again, they would close it.
“It is important to note that this plan is temporary and one that is part of a larger reboot effort of the Mass Cass plan,” she wrote. “We will be continually evaluating whether conditions improve and looking at different strategies to ensure the safety of all in the area.”