By Beth Treffeisen
Along Massachusetts Ave., and Melnea Cass Boulevard in the South End, the quality-of-life issues for those living in the neighborhood have increasingly gotten worse as those in recovery continue to flock to the area for addiction services.
In order to help combat the negative side effects, Andrew Brand, presented an idea for a Good Neighbor Policy to address the opioid addiction services issue at the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association meeting on Tuesday, September 19. The goal was to gain neighborhood support before presenting the idea to the service providers in the area.
One year ago, Brand said he joined a working group made up of residents that have continued to report back to Mayor Martin Walsh on opioid related problems in the area.
The problem, Brand said, is that after interviewing and talking to the service providers such as Boston Medical Center (BMC), Boston Health Care for the Homeless, Rosie’s Place and methadone clinics, no one wants to take the blame for the impacts they are creating after their patients leave for the day.
“Everyone is finger pointing and no one is taking accountability for the increase of people there,” said Brand. “In addition the service providers let out vulnerable people who then attract dealers.”
A few years ago, Brand said the Old Dover Neighborhood Association ran into a similar problem with the Pine Street Inn, when services to Long Island was shut down.
In order to address residents concerns, the Pine Street Inn began a Good Neighbor Policy that included hiring a former police officer. Not only was the officer put in charge of security there was a direct number that residents could call if an issue were to arise in the neighborhood.
The officer when called would try to arrive within three to five minutes. Once there, if he believes the person needs direct services he will work to connect them with the right people beyond just providing simple outreach such as pointing to a nearby homeless shelter.
If it is an emergency situation the officer will call the Boston Police Department for further assistance.
“The program now has wide neighborhood support,” said Brand. “We want to take this model and bring it to the Mass/Cass area. We do understand that this is more complex because of all of the providers.”
A lot of the providers such as BMC and the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless already have security that has power of arrest. The general idea, Brand said, is to create a coalition of security that can respond to a problem possibly faster than the already over-worked Boston Police Department (BPD).
If residents come across a problem, such as someone injecting illegal drugs in a nearby park, they can contact a hotline (possibly within the 311 app) that will go out within the coalition for a response. The hope is that the security will also be able to provide further services to the patient, if needed.
The other advantage of possibly having this service through the 311 app is that it will log all of the incidents that could lead to more resources in the future.
“Assuming this will happen, it is up to us to be involved neighbors to explain what is going on and get support,” said Brand.
Brand assured that this wouldn’t replace the BPD but help support the work they are already doing by gaining additional resources from the State Police, BMC and other service providers.
“It’s really just ridiculously complicated and they need to start working together,” said Brand.
This past July, the BPD began an effort in the same area to arrest people when warranted with a push towards recovery services. The effort includes coordination between BPD Districts, Boston University Police and Security, Transit Police, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Deputies and the State Police.
Together, the coalition of police has been “sweeping” the neighborhoods with lights on in the mornings to get people to move on. This also includes arresting people.
Other efforts have included “sectioning” people who have overdosed in public places routinely, a legal effort that can have a judge send them away for a while to get sober. In addition they have been using the Drug Unit that comes down in the early mornings to catch the drug dealers that are trying to sell to Methadone Clinic patients.
Brand’s idea will take this further, asking for a larger coalition to form between the providers in the area. The Blackstone/Franklin Square voted to support Brand’s idea in concept and hopes to hear back after he engages the institutions in this process.
“This is something we can implement in the short-term that will have a minimal budget that will help the problem,” said Brand. “It won’t fix it because they will just move somewhere else but we’re having real quality of life issues.”