It has been one year since the Long Island shelter debacle. For those of you who don’t remember, the shelter was hastily shut down after it was discovered that the bridge—which was used to carry the homeless to the island on buses—was deemed unsafe by the state and was condemned.

So why am I calling it a debacle? Because previous to the condemning there was no game plan as to how to get nearly 700 people with their belongings off that island or where to house them. It was no secret that the Long Island bridge was unsafe and needed to be fixed.

As documented in a story by Spare Change News several months before the closing, the cities of Boston and Quincy were in a virtual pissing contest over who was responsible for repairing the bridge. In the meantime, there was no plan in place for what to do to replace the shelter or addiction programs that were housed on the island.

So when the time came to evacuate, people had no time to pack up their belongings. They had to leave them on the island and just go. Buses that were taking people to the shelter and recovery programs had to stop, turn around, and take people back to the pick-up site in Boston. The mainland shelters had to scramble to find a way to take in hundreds of shelter guests at a moment’s notice. The city put together a makeshift shelter that was, by all accounts, horrid, and those who couldn’t or wouldn’t stay there were pretty much on their own.

Many who were in recovery programs relapsed, and some died. Now, the mayor of Boston and his posse will try to tell you that I’m being melodramatic and it wasn’t that bad. I can point you in the direction of more than a few people who will tell you it was that bad. Come visit some of my friends from the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee (BHSC), a couple who actually went through it. Talk with those still on the street, many from the recovery program or other programs on the island. Talk to the families and friends who lost loved ones who were in those recovery programs.

One year later, not much has changed. Oh, once again, the mayor and his posse will say, “Look at what we’ve done.” Yes, let’s build a new shelter on Southampton Street, which, from what I’ve heard, isn’t much better than that makeshift shelter from last winter. Woods-Mullen is now an all-female shelter, a place that I can tell you from personal experience isn’t fit for an animal to sleep in, let alone human beings. Also, many of the recovery programs that were on the island haven’t been replaced, even as we keep hearing from both the mayor and the governor that battling addiction is their top priority.

I almost forgot the mayor’s plan to end homelessness, which frankly isn’t worth the paper it was written on. Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but there needs to be a real plan and the homeless should have a say in that plan. When I say homeless, I don’t mean a couple of people hand-picked by the Shelter Commission with a tailored message. People who are selected by the homeless community. People who will speak their own minds and will never forget what happened at Long Island.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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