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A facility at 112 Southampton St. in Boston will be renovated to house the hundreds of homeless people displaced due to the closure of the Long Island bridge, Mayor Marty Walsh announced Monday.
Walsh ordered the bridge closed in October when consultants deemed it structurally unsafe, cutting off access to homeless shelters and substance abuse treatment programs on the island.
After abandoning plans last week to build a modular structure on Frontage Road in the South End, Walsh says the city has zeroed in on a former city transportation building at 112 Southampton St., near the Boston Medical Center.
The site will eventually be able to house 490 people — 40 more than the original proposed site on Frontage Road, Walsh said. He said his administration did not back away from the Frontage Road location because of community opposition or interest from the Kraft family in possibly building New England Revolution stadium at the site. He insisted the Southampton Street site is easier to build out — construction and remodeling will be indoors, meaning it can take place throughout the winter.
Renovation on the property to add toilets, showers and appropriate areas for men and women to sleep is expected to begin early next year.
The construction will happen in two phases, beginning with "a four-week build-out phase so we can open up to handle the 100 people overflow, so we don't have anyone dying in the streets on us," Walsh said, referring to the number of homeless who need shelter now beyond the number of beds currently available in the city.
The remaining construction will take another three to four months. That means the hundreds of men who were housed on Long Island and are temporarily being sheltered at the South End Fitness Center will remain there for now. Dozens of women who were originally sheltered on Long Island have been sleeping in the atrium at Barbara McInnis House at Boston Health Care for the Homeless. Pine Street Inn and other shelters have also gone into overflow capacity to house some of those displaced.
Walsh said the crisis has helped hasten plans to develop new city programs to help people transition out of homelessness. Though private organizations have long worked on such efforts, Walsh said the city has only provided shelter beds. A new city task force charged with finding solutions to homelessness will hold its first meeting Thursday.
The city hasn't yet finalized a plan to relocate the addiction treatment programs that were housed on Long Island. A plan to use Radius Hospital in Roxbury was rejected after community opposition last week.
Asked if the city has let down people in the addiction community, with whom Walsh can empathize as a recovering alcoholic, he said it's easy to second guess.
"We had to close down a bridge, and it was a very difficult decision to make," Walsh said. "We really didn't have another option, because we could lose people into the ocean if the bridge collapsed. My main concern is making sure we have a safe place for people to be and have a warm place for people to be at a time where they need it and they can get a meal. Trying to relocate some of these programs is a difficult situation in the city."
Walsh said he doesn't yet know if the Southampton Street location will be the permanent site of the city's homeless shelter.
The city is still determining how it will fund the shelter renovation.
Listen to our full conversation with Mayor Marty Walsh above.
This segment aired on December 15, 2014.
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