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City permanently closes ‘comfort station’ near Mass. and Cass over ‘security concerns’

The comfort station, an enclosed area with tents, portable toilets, hand-washing stations, and outreach services, was created last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A man walks toward the comfort station on Atkinson Street in September 2020. Craig F. Walker / Boston Globe

The City of Boston has permanently closed its “comfort station” on Atkinson Street, which was set up last year to provide basic services such as bathrooms to people struggling with homelessness and addiction during the coronavirus pandemic

The station in the area of the city referred to by officials as “Mass. and Cass,” and disparagingly known as “Methadone Mile,” was closed due to “security concerns” on July 29, according to a spokesperson for the Office of Acting Mayor Kim Janey.

“The Engagement Center adjacent to the comfort station remains open 7 days a week, and continues to provide a safe space inside and outside for people to get services and essential needs,” the statement said.

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But violence in the area has continued since the station’s closure, including fatal stabbings on Aug. 8 and Aug. 23

The comfort station, an enclosed area with tents, portable toilets, hand-washing stations, and outreach services, was created in 2020 under the administration of former Mayor Marty Walsh to address the increased demand and need for services as the pandemic exacerbated the opioid epidemic across the region by causing disruptions to supports relied on by those struggling with addiction and homelessness. 

But the station became a flashpoint in the debate over how to best address the worsening conditions around Mass. and Cass, which has become the epicenter of the overlapping crises of mental health, homelessness, and substance use disorder in the city.

Janey temporarily shut down the station in late March, citing escalating violence, but it reopened in May with changes city officials said aimed to address issues of safety and overcrowding.

The move to permanently close the comfort station is drawing criticism of Janey from her fellow mayoral candidates

John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, blasted both Janey and members of the City Council, three of whom are also vying to become mayor, in a statement on Wednesday for overseeing a “summer of inaction and violence.”

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“The crises at Mass and Cass have multiplied,” Barros said in a statement. “Our politicians have failed us … They have closed the comfort station that was there to reduce overdose deaths, connect individuals with recovery services, and reduce the strain on surrounding neighborhoods. We need a real commitment to helping people recover and providing the resources to address the crises at Mass and Cass.”

City Councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell held a press conference on Wednesday focused on Mass. and Cass during which she called out the closure of the station and said Janey needs to “step up and take action” to address the worsening conditions.

Campbell said she’s still learning about the details of the closure, adding that there’s been “a lack of communication between the council and the administration.” 

“I was deeply disappointed to learn that the comfort station would be closing permanently,” Campbell said. “We need infrastructure. Infrastructure where people can go, not only to use restrooms and have a place to address sanitation issues, but also to get support.”

The issues around Mass. and Cass have become a significant topic in the mayoral race, with almost all the candidates presenting plans for how they would address the crisis. 

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