One year after the Long Island bridge’s sudden closure on October 8th 2014, the homeless, the recovering and their advocates spent a morning rallying to raise awareness and demand mores services from the city and the state. Long Island was home to the city’s largest shelter, detox center and a number of addiction recovery services. Seven hundred beds were lost when the island shut down after the city determined the bridge (the only access route) was unsafe for travel.
Starting in front of Boston City Hall, those participating in the rally heard from speakers like Brenda Jarvis, a client of the Long Island shelter, who was displaced after it closed. Jarvis was working on the island when one of the women she lived with told her about the closing. She was stuck in the city with nothing but a backpack full of books. For one whole week, she had to wear the same pink sweater and pair of jeans.
Jarvis was able to find housing by November 1st, but her experience with the closure still haunts her. “Once you’ve been homeless, it takes years to get over that trauma” she told the crowd. “To see how the city came together for the Boston marathon [bombing victims], I felt like we suffered that same trauma. However, nobody came together for us.”
Lennie Higginbotham, a spokesperson for Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, which organized the event, pointed out to the number of opiate-related deaths in 2014: 1,047. Advocates have argued that some of those deaths may have been prevented if the island stayed open or if recovery beds were restored sooner. According to The Boston Globe, 100 recovery beds are still missing, and at least four former clients of Andrew House (Long Island’s 60 bed detox center) died after the closing.
A big theme of the day was housing. Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey told the crowd, “Housing is a right. We have to move past the concept of warehousing people.” Speaking further with Spare Change News, Yancey added: “We need to increase housing production, housing that people can afford in the city of Boston.” Yancey also pointed to Hearth at Olmstead-Greens, a home for the older homeless individuals, as a model worth employing throughout the city.
After City Hall, the rally moved to Church on the Hill where they were treated to a series of speakers, including author and historian Dr. Peniel Joseph, who lectured on injustice as an inter-sectional issue that ultimately stems from white supremacy, a system that causes inequality in housing situations, unemployment, and lack of basic health care. “If you’re in recovery in Wellesley, you’re already better off than someone recovering in the city,” said Dr. Joseph.
The rally moved to the State House steps, calling on Governor Charlie Baker to take more actions in restoring recovery beds and criticizing his proposal to reduce eligibility for state-funded assistance for homeless families. Ralliers also held paper tombstones representing the 1,047 people who overdosed in 2014. These tombstones were later hand-delivered to the State Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders.
Mayor Walsh said: “A year ago we made the painful but necessary decision to shut down the Long Island Bridge. That day was a turning point, it allowed us to look at the services we offer and figure out how to make them better, so that Boston is a city that leaves no one behind. I’m proud that we are a city that is committed to sheltering everyone, every night no matter what. In less than a year we built a state-of-the-art shelter with space for housing services, case management, health care services and mental health and addiction counseling.” The mayor also thanked advocates for bringing attention to the issue and mentioned his plans to end homelessness by 2018.