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Boston Medical Center will shutter its clinical services at the Roundhouse Hotel, which serves as a transitional housing site for individuals from Mass. and Cass struggling with addiction and homelessness, at the end of March.
The hospital said the change is due to lack of long-term funding.
The Roundhouse, located near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston, is one of the six low-threshold, transitional housing sites stood up by Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration in January 2022 to serve individuals in the area, which has become the epicenter of the region’s overlapping crises of addiction, homelessness, and mental health.
Boston Medical Center has been operating a transitional care clinic and stabilization care center in the hotel, in partnership with the city, offering medical services to help individuals address their mental health and substance use needs. Case management and stabilization services have also been on hand to support individuals in the area seeking a path to recovery and a transition to permanent housing.
While the clinical component of the hospital’s involvement is slated to end in the next month, BMC said funding for the 60 units of transitional housing it operates at the site “has been identified through June.”
“BMC remains committed to continuing to provide a range of clinical services to treat substance use disorder at the hospital,” a hospital spokesperson said.
The hospital directed questions about what services at the Roundhouse would look like beyond June to the city.
According to the mayor’s office, with the city’s contract with BMC for housing services at the Roundhouse expiring in June, officials are evaluating programing options for the next fiscal year.
“We are grateful to our partners at BMC for their collaboration in supporting the city’s public health response to the substance use and homelessness crises at Mass. and Cass,” a Boston Public Health Commission spokesperson said in a statement. “The Boston Public Health Commission will continue to serve residents with substance use disorders through comprehensive harm reduction efforts through our AHOPE program and outreach and clinical services at the Engagement Center in partnership with Boston Health Care for the Homeless.
“Additionally, BPHC continues to work with Victory Programs and Whittier Street Health Center to direct individuals to their day spaces so they can access the wraparound services they need,” the statement read.
The Roundhouse site has long faced pushback and opposition, with local business leaders and residents of the abutting neighborhoods calling on the city to create services away from the Mass. and Cass area, arguing it is overburdened by the impacts of the crises.
“It’s not that the services aren’t necessary, just not there,” Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, told GBH News. “I see loitering, vandalism and aggressive panhandling. For those reasons, all the neighboring businesses will be very glad to see them leave.”
Steve Fox, who chairs the South End Forum, told WBUR services need to be located in a spot where individuals “have a fighting chance to actually build a recovery.”
“Somebody who was staying at the Roundhouse would walk out that door and have a choice in the morning: ‘Am I going to go see my drug dealer who is sitting five feet away waiting for me to come out … or am I going to go to my treatment program?’ ” he said. “And we think that that’s a bad situation where that’s the decision that somebody walking out of the Roundhouse has to make in the morning.”
The closure of clinical services at the Roundhouse, and the uncertainty about the future of the transitional housing in the hotel, is not a welcome development for everyone.
Jim Stewart, director of First Church Shelter in Cambridge and a steering committee member of SIFMA Now, told Boston.com the change is a “concession” to the area’s real estate and business communities, which have long voiced objections to the site.
“If there isn’t an accessible alternative made available to people, then I think the Wu administration and Boston Medical Center should be embarrassed, if not ashamed, for doing this,” he said.
Dr. Miriam Komaromy, medical director of BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction, in 2022 told Boston.com the public health approach being utilized at the Roundhouse was working.
“People are demonstrably healthier and more engaged with treatment and are staying housed,” she said. “The transition path to move them into permanent supportive housing is slow, but that’s not because the residents don’t want that. It’s because of the limited availability of the housing.”
According to the city, 98 people from the Mass. and Cass area have been placed in permanent housing after going through one of the six low-threshold, transitional housing sites since January 2022. A total of 486 people have been housed at the six sites, which were started after the city removed encampments around Mass. and Cass in January 2022.
Currently, there are 180 people living in those six programs, according to the city.
Stewart said if the work being done at the Roundhouse is still a priority for both the city and the hospital, the resources would have been found to continue the services.
“Funding is always found for things that are a priority,” he said.
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