“A Sense of Community”: Can the Shattuck Cabins be an answer to the crisis in Mass. and Cass?

Seventeen sleeping cabins, ranging from 64 to 100 square feet, are lined up in two rows. At one end is a courtyard. And at the front of the village is a 500 square foot structure that will serve as a common room, where those who live there can meet for meals or tips. Other services – to help treat addiction or mental illness – will be available on the site. And at the end of the day, those who live there can retreat to their own personal sleeping space.

“It gives someone a feeling of space and privacy; it’s easier than being on the streets, ”said Marylou Sudders, Secretary of State for Health and Human Services, during a recent site visit.

An interior view of one of the cottages on the grounds of the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus.Suzanne Kreiter / Globe Staff

As city officials and social workers push people out of their tent camps near the Mass. and Cass, they invite them to the new cottage community, marketing it as a temporary but attractive option that could serve as a warmer and safer transition to a long life. term housing.

City and state officials plan to offer new housing and similar programs at other sites, including two vacant hotels. But the fast-building community that has been erected on Shattuck land over the past two weeks could be replicated in other areas of the city and region as authorities move to “low-threshold housing.”

Low-threshold housing is part of a Housing First strategy that aims to move people experiencing addiction and mental illness directly to a welcoming shelter with easy access to personal counseling and social services. . Residents do not need to be sober to secure housing.

People who live in housing units can still manage an addiction disorder or mental illness. But there they will have the privacy of their own refuge, with lockable doors, a preferable option for many who have avoided the open and gathered setting of a traditional homeless shelter. And they’ll be offered full services, including addiction and mental health counseling, prescription monitoring, and instructions on how to move to more permanent housing.

Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders (left) and other state officials surveyed a 30-unit cottage community.
Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders (left) and other state officials surveyed a 30-unit cottage community.Suzanne Kreiter / Globe Staff

City officials said a recent survey of around 140 people sleeping in the 77 tents near the intersection showed more than 95 percent said they would be willing to leave their tents for a such accommodation, if it was available.

The survey, one of the first of its kind to be conducted publicly in Boston, also showed that although most people in the camps around Mass. & Cass reported that they were struggling with an addiction disorder, only 23% said they were taking medication for their addiction; only half of them had a health care provider and fewer had a mental health care provider. Most respondents said they wanted such care.

Services at Shattuck are supposed to be temporary: Officials expect to be able to transfer 100 people across the community of Shattuck over the next six months, with the goal of shutting down the community soon after.

” It’s an invitation [them] in a place that is safe accommodation; it’s hot and there are all these health care services in that setting, so they can have access to everything they need to get to a better place, ”said Chris Palmieri, president and chief executive officer. the leadership of the Commonwealth Care Alliance, which specializes in the provision of care. for people with disabilities and mental health problems. The alliance will lead the Shattuck community.

“This is what is so unique,” ​​he said. “It’s all there.”

“These people living in these settlements obviously have complex needs, and in order to meet those complex needs, we must fully understand them,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. She said the survey showed most people in the settlements, 59%, reported living on the streets for less than two years, although 17% said they had been there for six or more years. .

And the survey shows that low-threshold housing – in vacant hotels or in the community of Shattuck – is “what most people want.” This is where they want to go, ”Ojikutu said.

The cabins themselves are a mix of one or two unit aluminum frame structures ranging in size from 64 to 100 square feet. Each will be equipped with bedding, storage spaces, and possibly a desk, and will have its own electricity and air conditioning. Authorities plan to cover the walls in a pristine white color art.

And around the area, crews build a stained wood fence, providing a visually appealing sense of privacy for those who will soon call the community home.

“It will be all around, so people have a sense of privacy,” Sudders said during a site visit.

On the grounds of the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus.
On the grounds of the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus.Suzanne Kreiter / Globe Staff

Brandon Bills, spokesperson for Pallett, the Washington-based company that builds the cabins on the Shattuck, said interest in quick-build temporary housing has increased in recent years amid the emergency born out of the pandemic COVID-19 and as policymakers seek new ways to provide comprehensive services to those living on the streets. “They are really meant to be transitory, to act as a stepping stone,” he said.

And they’ve proven their worth, he said: One of the first communities the company built – in Tacoma – has hosted around 450 people over the past five years, more than 400 of whom have transitioned to more permanent housing. In total, the company has built approximately 1,500 homes in 39 cities in 10 states.

The plan to move people from tent camps to low-threshold housing across the city has raised concerns among neighbors of proposed housing sites, including those near Shattuck Hospital, who fear crime and open-air drug market that has taken over Mass and Cass will follow those seeking treatment to their new homes.

At a recent meeting of the Franklin Park Coalition, a group dedicated to the preservation of the park, several residents asked how authorities would monitor the campus and adjacent properties.

Will residents who still struggle with drug addiction start using in the park? Selling drugs on campus? What will the authorities do to monitor the area? Will syringes start to appear near their playgrounds?

“The idea is to fix Mass. And Cass, not move them,” a board member said in a rhetorical challenge to state officials.

Sudders said she visited Mass. and Cass in August and recognized that the region was at “a tipping point” with blatant drug use and trafficking. “The number of camps, the number of tents, has increased considerably” in recent years, she told residents during the meeting.

Sudders sought to assure residents that the new community of Shattuck will be guarded, with a dedicated security staff booth. But she stressed that officials see the community as a key solution to help provide safe and secure housing with services to those who need them most.

“It’s a solution. . . a tool, “she said on the recent tour,” but I think it’s an important tool in helping people get off the streets and find themselves in a safe place. “

She added: “We have to have a multitude of options, given the complexity of the need there.”

Milton J. Valencia can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @miltonvalencia.

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