The controversial plans to house homeless in a Methadone Mile hotel are on the ropes after a rocky closed-door meeting, with the main proponent saying she’s thinking twice in the face of “clear community opposition.”
“Is the plan alive as of today? I don’t know,” Sarah Porter of Victory Programs told the Herald on Saturday afternoon. “Is the plan dead as of today? I don’t know.”
Porter’s Victory Programs has been in the process of using state grant money to lease out what’s known as the “Roxbury Roundhouse,” a shuttered Best Western hotel at 891 Massachusetts Ave. That’s right in the heart of the rough “Mass and Cass” or “Methadone Mile” area, a worsening haven for violence and open-air drug dealing and use.
The plan, backed by a state grant and a city kick-in, would put 14 to 35 people who are currently living on the streets nearby into “transitional housing” to stabilize them and then get them out of the area.
Porter said that a contentious Friday-night virtual meeting for certain local advocates and officials made the “clear community opposition” even more evident. As they’ve told the Herald, locals worry that the Roundhouse plan will simply add to the troubles in the South End, and they say it flies in the face of the longstanding push to “decentralize” addiction services out of Mass and Cass.
“I’m not going to say, ‘community opposition be damned, I’m going with that anyway,’” Porter said, acknowledging the uncertainty.
She does maintain that the plan overall is a good one, and that the hotel building would be a highly secure and important way to help get people off the streets and into a recovery process.
And Porter insisted that when she first started working on this plan several months ago, multiple state and city officials agreed with her. Porter declined to name names, but said, “There were elected officials who were behind the idea who have since changed their tune.”
She said her next steps would be to talk to those people and see what happened.
This week, City Councilors Frank Baker and state Rep. Jon Santiago, who both represent the area, and City Councilor Ed Flynn, whose district is right nearby, all told the Herald they didn’t like where the plan was headed.
Flynn after the meeting told the Herald the locals in the South End and Roxbury “deserve to have their voices heard and respected. That did not happen.”
Porter said she also needs to check with the city and see if it still plans on kicking in money.
The move to rent out three floors of the hotel and house the couple dozen people currently would be paid for mostly with a state grant from January — but with the city making up the “funding gap” that comes from the decision to lease out the whole hotel, as VP has been in negotiations to do.
And there’s the real rub. What concerns many locals much more than Porter’s stated purpose is the specter of the idea that the city has its eye on turning the whole 200-room hotel into a giant shelter right on Methadone Mile.
And while Porter says those aren’t her plans at all, she said she understands why people are worked up.
“I don’t have anything to say to alleviate that concern,” Porter said. She insisted that she is the one doing the negotiations over the property lease — not the city — but, “It’s not like I can say the city is out of this.”
And further, she, like some neighbors, noted that Boston Heath Chief Marty Martinez at one point recently said it would be “unethical” for all those other beds to remain open in an area where so many were homeless — a comment that stoked neighbors’ fears that the city would try to “shoehorn” more people into the Roundhouse.
But Porter said for her purposes, “I have no capacity to be able to staff, run and operate any of the other rooms” outside of the two floors of transitional housing and one of congregate usages.
Martinez, who leads the city’s approaches for Mass and Cass and opioid efforts in general, told the Herald on Friday that the city has “no plans” to pack people into all the rooms, and that’s not what’s happening. He said Acting Mayor Janey’s administration supports Porter’s plan, and insisted VP is in the driver’s seat.