Long Island Shelter Closure Inexcusably Left People Out in the Cold

As the cold weather set in a couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook how cold days like this make me think of Long Island Shelter. I wasn’t alone when I posted that. Some people had positive responses, others not so much, but we still remembered the island.

It’s only been three years since the closing of Long Island Shelter, and yet it seems longer. The buildings that it housed still stand empty and unused. The question I’ve always asked, and which others also ask, is: Why is an abandoned building not being utilized when there are so many people living on the streets?

The answer, with regard to this particular building, is obvious. The only bridge connected to the island was condemned, torn down and was never rebuilt. And according to who you speak to these days, there are no current plans to rebuild it. No one really has a clear answer as to why the bridge is not being rebuilt. Or why homeless people aren’t being taken to the island by ferry. Or why the buildings, which are still operational, are not being refurbished, not just for shelter beds but for programs, maybe some for low-income housing (all of which is so desperately needed).

It’s not like numbers for homeless people have dropped to single digits since the shelter closed. If anything, it looks like an increase, but that’s just my opinion. There are those who will say the shelter should stay closed, and even some homeless activists think that way. I’ve heard excuses like, “it’s too dangerous.” Please note that all shelters are unsafe to some extent. Sleeping on the streets when the shelters are crowded is unsafe too. The homeless risk assault from uncompassionate idiots (a homeless immigrant was targeted by Trump supporters in 2015, and a TD Garden security guard was accused of abusing the homeless earlier this year). Trying to sleep in freezing weather is dangerous too. People die.  

Maybe I’m in the minority on this, but the Island should be reopened, and the bridge should be rebuilt. The City of Boston repaired a bridge for GE. It has enough money to keep building skyscrapers and luxury buildings for the rich. Where is the money to turn Long Island Shelter into some kind of multi-use complex for the homeless?

Many of my colleagues would argue that by calling for the shelter to be reopened, I’m going backward or fighting an uphill battle that’s just not worth it. “Housing should be the focus,” they would say. And it still is. Meanwhile, as we’re fighting that battle, which, by the way, is also uphill, there’s a shortage of beds, and not everyone who actually sleeps on park benches would actually prefer that.

Why don’t you ask the people on Methadone Mile whether they would go if they had a chance to enter a program or detox on a reopened Long Island. Not everyone would say “of course,” but wouldn’t it be worth it if people had the opportunity to go if they wanted to? Wouldn’t that be better than going into some backyard tent? Or being harassed by cops all day? What about housing: Couldn’t some of those buildings be transformed into Housing First apartments? Why not? There is no good reason Long Island shouldn’t be reopened, only excuses.

James Shearer

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

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