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Following Long Island Closure, Local Homeless Shelters Struggle with Demand

By Sonali Y. Salgado and Caroline T. Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

Weeks after Boston officials closed a major homeless shelter located on a island in Boston Harbor, local homelessness service providers said they are already struggling with increased demand before the onset of winter.

The Long Island Shelter was the Boston area’s largest, housing more than 700 people a night. When Boston city officials closed the only bridge servicing the shelter on Oct. 8 due to concerns about its stability, these people were left without a place to live.

“There’s an increased demand for services across the board,” said David K. Tang-Quan ’15, a Harvard Square Homeless Shelter administrative co-director.

According to Tang-Quan, the number of requests for emergency and regular beds at the Harvard Square Homeless shelter has significantly increased this year. Each day, the shelter has heard from about ten more homeless persons than normal.

“We have more unique guests calling in,” he said. “It’s not just the same population.”

Although the city of Boston, which ran the Long Island Shelter, created more spaces for the homeless elsewhere in the metro area, including the South End Fitness Center, it did not replace all of the 700 beds lost to bridge construction.

“There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of immediate change,” Mary Shannon Thomas, a social service worker specializing in homelessness cases, said. Many of the city’s shelter solutions, she said, were longer-term plans that would not be implemented until 2016.

One gap that has resulted from the closure of the Long Island Shelter concerns “detox beds," beds with medical support, designed for people who are trying to recover from substance abuse.

“We had 60 or 65 detox beds out there, which is like half the capacity of the area, and those are all gone,” she said. “That’s a huge deal.... We already didn’t have enough detox beds.”

Tang-Quan spoke of another unintended consequence of the Long Island shelter closing. Several guests at the Harvard Square shelter, he said, had left identification and paperwork at Long Island and have been unable to access them. According to Tang-Quan, this has led to a higher demand for the shelter’s resource advocates from people who need to refile this information.

Barbara V. Trevison, director of communications at Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter in Boston, said that the coming winter will only exacerbate the pressure on local shelters.

“We always know we need to staff up during the winter,” she said. “It’s a little hard to tell just what we’re going to see, especially if it’s a cold winter this year, with the additional people who have been displaced.”

—Staff writer Sonali Y. Salgado can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SonaliSalgado16.

—Staff writer Caroline T. Zhang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CarolineTZhang.

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