For most of his life, Antone has struggled with homelessness and substance use disorder. Now 45, the South End native receives shelter and treatment on the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus at the edge of Franklin Park.
Antone says the medical care and temporary shelter have been key to helping him recover from decades of heroin addiction. He'd love to see other people get similar help, but is skeptical about a new state plan to dramatically expand clinical services at the 13-acre campus in Jamaica Plain.
“There’s already a lot of fighting and stealing going on with 50-something people,” said Antone, who requested GBH News use only his first name to protect his privacy. “It’s going to be bad.”
Antone joins a growing number of people — including neighboring residents and conservationists — who are concerned about the state’s recently announced plans to replace the decrepit hospital with a dramatic expansion of clinical services and a campus of unprecedented size and scale. The proposal asks neighbors — including many from historically disenfranchised communities of color — to trust in a plan unlike anything else the state has seen before.
The state released a 370-page proposal in June to create some 450 treatment beds and 405 permanent housing units at the site. They say it’s needed to meet a growing need, with homelessness on the rise and the state’s shelter system at a breaking point.
But some residents who live near Franklin Park say they fear the high number of people served by this redesigned facility would increase safety issues in the park and its surrounding communities.
“I don't know how your family would want to put their young daughter in an area where 85% of the people are either dependent or trying to recover,’’ said Louis Elisa, president of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association.
Elisa says there are too many unknowns to ensure confidence. As city leaders work to transfer people out of the troubled area around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, known as Mass. and Cass, Elisa worries that a similar crisis could develop in his backyard.
“Not to stigmatize that, but here's the reality: Look at the number of women who have been assaulted, raped, or killed at Mass. and Cass,’’ he said. “Then you say, ‘OK, I’m going to stick them in the woods.’ It’s a bad idea.”
Josh Cuddy, director of interagency coordination at the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, said the plan is “ambitious” to accommodate the growing need.
“We are dealing with a significant drug epidemic that we’ve seen throughout history is not one that is adequately addressed from carceral solutions, with significant issues related to equity and racial impact,” Cuddy said.
The plan was conceived by a coalition of health providers led by Boston Medical Center. The group responded to a request for proposals to redevelop the Shattuck campus with at least 75 units of permanent supportive housing. Now the plan includes more than 800 beds, including homes for families and those still struggling with addiction.
Pine Street Inn President Lyndia Downie says current models that require people to travel between short-term programs are not effective in combating the epidemic.
“We need longer term treatment, months and in some cases, years,” Downie said. The state’s proposal would represent a big change, she said, but “pieces of it already exist on the campus. There’s already a lot of activity up there every single day.”
Rob Koenig, Boston Medical Center’s executive director for strategic plans, said the project offers services and security that makes the situation different from the challenges of Mass. and Cass. The plan would include specific security measures for each program, he said, including separate secured and monitored entrances, uniformed security staff, and chain link fences.
Planners also want to increase the area’s green space by 30%, with 2.9 acres returned to parkland, as well as new walkways and bike paths.
“It will feel more spread out, like a neighborhood,” Koenig said.
Koenig hopes to move people along a pathway toward detox or permanent housing with everything in one place, a change from existing models of “fragmented and disjointed programs” that often lead people back to the street.
“People can come in and sign leases and have neighbors and be part of a building community,’’ he said. “Through the design of the site, we think that we'll be able to create a healing and safe community.”
A timeline for the project is unclear. Construction can't start until the current 260-bed hospital is transferred to a new location in Boston’s South End, scheduled for 2026. The plan is estimated to cost $543 million, funded through a mix of private and public funding, including some $207 million from the state.
And there are still the critics to appease. Karen Mauney-Brodek, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, says the state instead should restore the Shattuck campus to parkland and move services and housing to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's adjacent Arborway Yard property. She says the campus was built in 1954, before conservation laws likely would have prevented its construction.
“It's kind of an exciting opportunity to repair a past mistake,” she said. “We’d like to see if alternatives can be explored.”
Franklin Park, the “crown jewel” of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, has suffered neglect for years. Elisa, who lives near the edge of the park in Roxbury, says surrounding communities are weary from years of disenfranchisement and false promises. He said the state hasn’t done enough to involve voices from the predominantly Black communities that surround the hospital.
“It's very clear to me that from the beginning there was no commitment to Franklin Park because the majority of people surrounding the park were Black folks,” he said.
With years of planning ahead, officials say they are just beginning to gather community feedback. Koenig said the next step is to gather community responses through a series of meetings, including one later this month.
“We fully expect and want to make modifications over time, factoring in and reflecting feedback we're getting,” he said.
But some stakeholders, including Fatima Ali-Salaam, chair of the Mattapan Neighborhood Council, say they should have been added to the conversation earlier. Ali-Salaam says she only became a member of the state’s Shattuck campus advisory board after years of planning. She says many residents are skeptical about the process, which they feel hasn’t been transparent enough to build trust.
“They don't believe that whatever they would be building actually has anything to do with solving anything for people who live here right now,” she said. “We have enough people here already struggling.”
The state is reeling from a drug crisis — with opioid-related overdose death rate hitting a record high of 33.5 per 100,000 people last year, according to a state report. Black residents represent the largest increase.
Rory Coffey, who lives nearby, says he noticed an increasing number of discarded needles, overdoses and public drug use since city and state leaders built cottages near Shattuck hospital in 2021 to accommodate people displaced from Mass. and Cass.
“It’s not a healthy recovery environment and it’s causing issues in the neighborhood,” Coffey said. “It’s just not working for anybody, and we really want something that works for everybody.”
After his young son ran toward an area covered in used needles last summer, Coffey started a website to track the number of needles reported in the park.
“Since then, I’ve just really been trying to clean up and prevent some of this health hazard wherever I can find it,” he said.
State officials say they'll spend the next few years trying to restore broken trust, hoping to gather enough community support to make their vision a reality.
If the plan moves forward, the cottages will be moved to another as-yet unknown location. The existing Pine Street Inn shelter would likely remain in place.
Antone says he expects to be gone by then, hopefully living in his own apartment somewhere else. He's grateful for that.
“There are some people that have been here for a long time and they’re not going to leave anytime soon,” he said. “Thank God I’m not going to have to go through it.”
Correction: This story was updated to correct Josh Cuddy's title.