Mayor Michelle Wu, along with Senior Advisor Dr. Monica Bharel, Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon, Chief of Operations Dion Irish, as well as other members of the Administration, took a ferry to the former Long Island recovery campus on Jan. 4 to assess the status of the buildings there as the city continues to plan for the future when it comes to addressing substance use disorder and homelessness.
After the visit, which was closed to media, Wu and officials held a press conference in South Boston to discuss what they saw at the approximately 400,000 gross square foot campus.
“The condition of many of the buildings is quite dilapidated,” Wu said, adding that there is “water damage in basically every space we were in.” She said that some heating systems were still operational, while “many were not.”
In 2014, programs and services were brought to a halt and the bridge to Long Island was closed due to structural issues, forcing those using the services to leave. In 2015, the bridge was demolished.
Wu said that she “could see how quick the evacuation was” at the time, as some items and papers were still there, nearly seven years later.
She said that Long Island is a “medium-to long-term push we’re making” as far as continuing to provide services and housing to those dealing with mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse disorder.
Wu said she is considering several options for transportation to the island, including reconstructing the bridge, using ferries, and potential helicopter use, though she said no decisions have been made yet.
“It was good to be able to look at the space,” Monica Bharel said, reaffirming that this is “medium and long term work,” but being able to see what is available was useful to the administration.
“It’s really important for us to realize that every day, our street outreach workers are engaging with people; trying to offer people services,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu.
“This is not a one time event. We know we need places for people to go for recovery in order to get back into the workforce; to recuperate.” She spoke about the potential use of outdoor space on the island, as well as determining “which buildings could be renovated sooner rather than later.”
Shiela Dillon said that “in the days and weeks to come,” the city will be conversing with its nonprofit partners about “what those buildings could be used for,” as well as things like budgeting.
“There is a lot of potential on the island,” she said.
Wu said that the administration has also been in touch with leaders from indigenous communities, as the island is a “sacred space for them.” She said that when the time comes to actually do something on the island, the city will “make sure to prioritize outreach” with the proper groups.
A reporter asked Wu about her deadline of Jan. 12 for the removal of all tents from the Mass and Cass area, and whether that deadline still remains.
“There have been efforts happening every single day.” Wu said, adding that 49 people have moved into low-threshold housing and “tents have been coming down.”
She said that “Jan. 12 was a date by which we believed we’d have enough housing available…” and “that continues to be the timeline we’re working on.” But as for the exact date of Jan. 12–“…It’s not going to be an on and off switch where one day, everyone will still be living in encampments and the next day, everyone will have disappeared,” Wu said. “This is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour conversation, 24 hours around the clock.”
Wu said this is her third time going to Long Island, and her first since the bridge has been removed.
“The next step for us is to really think about the various communities of residents we would potentially look to serve,” she said. She also said that “we need to be thinking of every possible way that we can connect our residents to services.”