The largest homeless shelter in Boston, Pine Street Inn, has acquired a new property for some of its guests as part of a plan to avoid shelter overcrowding and another surge of the coronavirus.
Pine Street will lease a hotel at 891 Massachusetts Ave., near Boston Medical Center. The round, brick building has most recently been a Best Western Plus.
One-hundred-eighty shelter guests currently staying in a Suffolk University dorm will move there, according to Pine Street Inn President & Executive Director Lyndia Downie. The men and women were transferred to the dorm starting in March as part of an effort to de-densify the shelter, which was overcrowded.
But the move didn't come in time to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In early April, 36% of Pine Street Inn guests tested positive.
"We cannot go back to an [overcrowded] environment like that, because we will just be back to a spread of the virus," Downie said.
Recently, 2% of guests at Pine Street Inn tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Downie. She said the spread of the virus has been reduced largely due to the population being spread out. The shelter has implemented other safety steps since early in the pandemic, including placing portable hand washing stations around the facility and hanging plastic curtains between beds.
In the hotel building, guests will be housed two people to a room with their own bathrooms.
"It's drastically different than shelter — obviously more privacy and the ability to social distance and isolate if need be, which is something that we're unable to do in the congregate shelters at the moment," Downie explained.
"We cannot go back to an [overcrowded] environment like that, because we will just be back to a spread of the virus."Pine Street Inn President & Executive Director Lyndia Downie
The homeless service organization has a one-year lease for the hotel. Housing placement staff will work on site, and their goal is to place the people staying at the hotel in permanent housing within that year, Downie said. The people who will stay at the facility are largely elderly or frail and have underlying medical conditions, meaning they're more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Other shelter providers have echoed the concern that their facilities cannot go back to being overcrowded, as they were when the pandemic hit.
This article was originally published on July 13, 2020.