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City eyes Radius hospital to house detox programs

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
City eyes Radius hospital to house detox programs
The former Radius Hospital site on Townsend Street, Roxbury.

Last week, when Townsend Street resident Jed Hresko saw a sedan with the city’s Department of Public Health insignia parked in the lot next to the shuttered Radius Hospital, he knew there was something to the rumors the city was looking to house homeless people displaced from the Long Island shelter in Roxbury.

Messages flew back and forth on social media and Roxbury residents began calling officials in City Hall.

By Thursday, neighborhood residents got the whole story. The Boston Public Health Commission is considering the Radius site, and others, to relocate the 265 treatment beds for substance abuse recovery programs. Participants in the programs would be bused in and out from referral sites and be required to stay on the premises at all times.

“You can’t walk on or walk out of these programs,” said Huy Nguyen, BPHC Medical Director and Interim Public Health Commissioner. “Whether the programs were sited at Radius or another site, we would be transporting people from a referral site to the program. This would be a closed campus.”

The Radius Hospital facility, formerly the Jewish Memorial Hospital, would be used as a temporary replacement for the facilities that housed treatment beds at the city’s Long Island homeless shelter.

For years much of the city’s homeless population has used the facilities in Long Island, boarding buses from downtown Boston and Melnea Cass Boulevard to spend the night at the shelter or checking in to one of the eight substance abuse treatment programs that operated there. On Oct. 7, engineers declared the bridge that spans from Quincy to Long Island unsafe, forcing many shelter occupants back on the streets.

Although temporary shelters, including one in a former South End fitness center, have absorbed many of the overnight guests, the state’s chronic shortage of treatment beds has hit the city particularly hard, especially in light of what many describe as an ongoing heroin epidemic in Massachusetts.

Among the consequences of the Long Island closure is a profusion of homeless people in Dudley Square, many in need of substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling, according to Dudley Square Main Streets Executive Director Joyce Stanley.

“It’s at least tripled,” she said. “There are folks here all day. I came out of my office the other day and had somebody laying on the stairs. At the same time, another man was passed out in Dudley Station.”

The persistence of inebriated and undomiciled men and women in the Dudley Square, as well as in and around the half-dozen so-called sober houses — state sanctioned, but largely unregulated and unsupervised rooming houses for ex-convicts who served time for drug or alcohol-related crimes — has left many in Roxbury wary of any efforts to accommodate more homeless people in the neighborhood.

“People do make decisions to buy property based on safety,” said Hresko, who lives a block away from the Radius site. “For the city to come and put this here is going to upset a lot of people.”

“It’s a little different than a homeless shelter,” said Ward 12 Democratic Committee co-Chairwoman Victoria Williams. “It’s certainly something the community would want to meet with city officials and hear about. There has to be a community process before anyone signs on the dotted line.”

Nguyen said BPHC would work with community groups, the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services and local elected officials before coming to a decision on where to site the services. He said it will likely take between three and five years to re-build the bridge to Long Island.

“We’re looking for a longer-term temporary solution,” he said.

UPDATED: The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services will be holding a community meeting on Thursday, Dec. 4th at 6pm to discuss possible alternatives for Radius. The meeting will be held at the Trotter Elementary School, 135 Humboldt Avenue, Roxbury. For more information contact Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (617) 635-3296.

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