Guest Op-Ed: Why Supportive Housing is Essential

By Samantha Montano

Housing is a huge part of my life, both professionally and personally. My family owned a home that we lost as my father’s substance use disorder overwhelmed him. This experience informs and directs my investment in supportive housing and recovery services at the state owned Shattuck Campus in Jamaica Plain.

Before being elected to serve my community in Jamaica Plain and Back of the Hill, I was an active community organizer in Jamaica Plain. I remember attending my first public meeting about the redevelopment of the Shattuck site in late 2018. The room as full as we heard from state officials about the need to move healthcare facilities from the out of date Shattuck Hospital that no longer served folks well to a medical facility in the South End. We participated in discussions around what we wanted to see and what we thought wouldn’t work, as well as navigated the parameters of the site’s restrictions.

In December of 2019, a guide was released which encompassed the vision of a redeveloped Shattuck Hospital. The vision was formed with the feedback of 12 plus months of community engagement and a 20 member Community Advisory Board. With this in mind and the parameters of use allowed for the site acknowledged, the plan for a campus with supportive housing and recovery services formed. There was also a strong voice heard at community meetings with concerns related to better integrating the campus with Franklin Park and making the space green and accessible for general use. Importantly, the plan needs to be financially feasible, so a public/private partnership was named as the ideal.

I provide all this background to counter narratives that there was never public process. As someone who has run community processes for affordable housing projects, I know there can always be more people included. I know public process can always be better. In the case of a public health crisis like this though, where folks are dying hourly of overdoses, where housing is less and less attainable at affordable levels, we cannot wait.

As the opioid epidemic has touched the lives of countless folks across Massachusetts, we have yet to deal with the ramifications. With the closing of Long Island bridge October 4th, 2014 we have yet to meet the demands of people in need of housing and services. Supportive housing is not the same as low-threshold housing which is not the same as sober homes. Supportive housing means somewhere in the building, or very close by, are services that support folks as they navigate the world. That help with substance use disorder recovery, that help folks who have been chronically homeless figure out life in a new way. Healthcare, mental health, access to resources all in one space to make sure folks aren’t lost. Though the Shattuck Campus may include other elements, the main purpose is housing and public health services.

I understand I represent a part of the abutters around the park that tend to be wealthier and whiter. I understand the other parts of the park are abutted by folks of color and low-income folks. There is an inherent racial and environmental justice component to this conversation that cannot be ignored. Folks are rightly concerned about the way we have used abutting communities of color like Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan to hold dense affordable housing, droves of unregulated sober housing, and industry that has polluted the air. There is no debate this has been the trajectory for years, that these feelings are valid and heard. I struggle at times navigating these dynamics as a queer person of color.

What I do know though is I cannot continue to look away as our communities are ravaged by substance use disorder and housing affordability. This opportunity is truly once in a lifetime. For us to address the complexities of multiple diagnosis we need campuses like the Shattuck. Folks who are navigating substance use and substance use disorder should have a stable home, services that are close by, green space, access to transit and neighborhoods. This site has it all. It will require a community effort to navigate it all. We all have to come together to be accountable for each other. The State needs to show up and I am committed to doing that.

I don’t know what the proposal presented to us will bring or what the final project will look like. What I do know is that I am deeply committed to this project. That I am willing to organize and put in the ground game to make sure folks in recovery and with substance use disorder have access to the housing and services they need. That any housing built there for families is affordable and safe. I am for the Shattuck Hospital Redevelopment. I know we can have it all. We can. We just have to put in the work and I am here for that.

Samantha Montano is the State Representative of the 15th Suffolk

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