The 2014 closure remains a defining moment of the Walsh administration
There will come a time, the Gospel of Matthew declares in apocalyptic spasm, when the Lord will sort the goats from his sheep. The kingdom of heaven awaits those who looked after the most vulnerable among us. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me, he will say.
Those less magnanimous in their time on Earth face eternal punishment. Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me, he will say.
I am by no means a religious man, but I am told Mayor Marty Walsh is. The former altar boy has woven his Catholic faith into a political narrative of redemption and resiliency. And so, each fall since Walsh condemned then dismantled the bridge to Long Island (and in tandem the shelters and facilities that were used by the least fortunate among us), I’ve wondered whether his St. Margaret’s Parish in Dorchester covered the above slice of the Gospel in Sunday school. Maybe he just ignored it.
We’ll never know for certain how many of the 700 homeless people estimated to have regularly used those services on Long Island died in the brutal winter of 2015, which followed the shelter’s abrupt closure three years ago. Nor will we ever know how many recovering addicts receiving treatment there relapsed—either after they were jolted from their fragile yet relatively stable routine, or purely out of abject despair—and died. There is no official metric to reflect this.
More than the ignominious defeat of Boston 2024, the abortive failure of IndyCar coming to Boston, the indictments of close aides, or the ongoing housing crisis, the human toll of Long Island remains the defining moment of the Walsh administration. They could land a hundred General Electrics and thousand Amazons, but the shame will never wash off. The piers of the old bridge still stand in the harbor today, a grim reminder of the depravity of this administration’s actions on this front, as well as its signaling that some lives mean more than others.
Those who survived the winter of 2015 convened on City Hall Plaza to mark the one-year anniversary. It was a small gathering. They spoke of the galling indignity of it all: the indignity of learning from a policeman that you must gather what little you have and get out; the indignity of being “homeless from the homeless shelter,” as one speaker called it; the indignity of wearing your only pair of panties for a week because you had nothing else.
Mayor Walsh seems to appear at every groundbreaking and topping-off ceremony of every luxury high-rise in this town. But I could not find Walsh in City Hall Plaza that afternoon. When it came time to face the folks he warehoused in a South End gymnasium, the mayor was nowhere to be found. In a statement that afternoon, his office called the Long Island closure a “painful but necessary decision.”
To be sure, the city opened 100 beds in the Southampton Street men’s shelter in January 2015 and brought its tally up to more than 400 the following June. Only this year does City Hall claim to have replaced all the beds lost on Long Island. But imagine if the Walsh administration had snapped into action as quickly as it did upon learning Amazon sought a second headquarters. In one month, City Hall conjured a comprehensive pitch for a company valued at half a trillion dollars. Meanwhile, three years later, Walsh is still only putting the pieces of Long Island together bit by bit—a $2.4 million federal grant to Pine Street in that will fund more than 250 homeless veterans over three years, an ambitious new plan to address youth homelessness that is worth paying attention to.
Let’s also not forget how, at the request of “New Vault” power broker Jack Connors, Walsh gave away the city-owned farm there to the fast-food chain b.good, a favorite lunch spot among City Hall employees. While on the mainland, Walsh spent $4,500 on a fence near the Methadone Mile to corral the opioid addicts—many of them former Long Island residents—from one side of the street to the other. This as taxpayers have paid millions of dollars to keep heating and lights on in the abandoned, empty buildings there.
This year’s anniversary passed with little fanfare. There was no mention of Long Island at the first mayoral debate between Walsh and his challenger, City Councilor Tito Jackson. Neither the Globe nor the Herald ran a story.
At the one-year anniversary, Brenda Jarvis, a laboratory worker who came home to Long Island and discovered she had been displaced, said she “felt like nobody cared about our suffering, and I think that was the hardest part for me—I felt like nobody cared.” She added, “Boston is an awesome city. To see how the city came together for the Boston marathon [bombing], I felt like we suffered that same trauma.”
As for the response to Long Island, Jarvis recalled…
“I felt like nobody came together for us.”