Boston City Councillor Tito Jackson will file a Hearing Order at this Wednesday’s City Council Meeting on the City of Boston’s recent decision to shutter two transitional housing programs for residents, mostly men, in recovery. One is of these programs, Project SOAR, offers 20 beds for residents in recovery, and the second program, Safe Harbor offers beds for 20 residents who are HIV+ and in recovery. Both programs filled a critical need that was created by the Mayor’s abrupt 2014 decision to close the Long Island Shelter.
Although the City is repurposing these beds for emergency shelter, the Southampton Street Shelter was the only dedicated recovery service in Boston that accommodated HIV-positive homeless patients. According to recovery service advocates, there are at least 300 HIV positive homeless people in the City of Boston, and the loss of programs for residents with such complex needs especially troubles them.
“Boston’s residents in every neighborhood have felt the impact of the Long Island shelter closing, which offered vital substance abuse recovery services,” City Councillor Tito Jackson said. “By closing the substance abuse recovery programs at the Southampton Street Shelter, the City has now failed those seeking recovery in Boston twice. This is a disgrace. I call on the Mayor to return these crucial services immediately.”
Councillor Jackson is also troubled that the City blames President Trump’s recently introduced budget proposal to eliminate transitional funding to these type to programs. “That the City has decided such a drastic step so quickly when the President’s budget hasn’t even gone through Ways and Means yet is ridiculous.” Councillor Jackson added, “We are also in a massive building boom that generated $75M of net new revenue this year. Why is it that we are able to promise General Electric millions of dollars for a bridge and a publicly funded-helipad, but cannot find $800,000 for HIV-positive homeless people?”
Current and past patients, and advocates such as the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee and Project Do Something Boston, are equally alarmed.
Edwin, a current participant in Safe Harbor, said, “I’ve seen people relapse and become incarcerated because they could not deal with the closures,” said He added, “We are HIV positive and in a very delicate situation, we need support and instead of helping they seem to just be throwing us out.”
Another Safe Harbor participant Jo Ann Coull added, “Safe Harbor literally saved my life and helped me to build a new one in recovery. Women lost this amazing program when Long Island was shuttered over two years ago, but it breaks my heart to think it won’t be there for the next HIV positive man in need. The HIV community desperately needs this vital program.”
Shuttering both programs is especially concerning for future outcomes for vulnerable residents. Boston Housing Care found that HIV-positive homeless people have three times more difficulty accessing care than housed people with HIV. Furthermore, according to the Boston Globe, opioid-related overdoses rose 16% last year. Nearly 80% of those deaths were men, and researchers of a longitudinal study in Boston found drug overdoses were the leading cause of death among the homeless population.
Councillor Jackson seeks an expedited hearing on the matter once the City Council takes up the Hearing Order this Wednesday.