By Seth Daniel
After concluding its first public meeting last month, the expansive Opiate Working Group in the South End has agreed that it needs to have more and better outreach to the overall community.
The public meeting took place in November and included a panel discussion and an unveiling of some recommendations by the group, which has been meeting and discussing ideas for the past year. At the regular Dec. 19 meeting, the group re-hashed November’s public meeting and most in the group said it was clear they needed to work on outreach.
“One take away from the public meeting is we need to do a much better job of outreach to the South End community,” said Steve Fox, moderator of the South End Forum, which sponsors the group. “I think we would all agree on that.”
Fox said the public meeting was agreed upon by the group – which is made up of neighborhood leaders, residents, City leaders, elected officials, businesses and social service providers. The group, upon forming a little over a year ago, agreed to have the public meeting to share with the community what was being done. He said they purposely decided to be a little vague at the first meeting to see what the community was thinking before laying out their plans.
The public meeting, however, seemed to turn into a forum for voicing frustration, which was expected.
Bud Larievy of Chester Square said the next meeting needs to have clear goals, and to understand some are affected more than others by the quality-of-life issues brought on by the opiate epidemic’s epicenter in the South End.
“The basis of the meeting was not clear at all,” he said. “There should have been goals and objectives. Also, it needs to be understood that there are more areas and more people that are affected by this more intensely than other areas…It may be we are not reaching the people. They may not be educated on the issue fully, but we’re also not taking it to them.”
Larievy said he and other board members for the Washington Gateway Main Street have been doing direct outreach to businesses since the public meeting to let them know what exactly is happening in the Working Group meetings.
It seems, he said, that the Working Group has been very productive, but hasn’t been communicating what has been done.
Andy Brand of Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) said there needs to be a clear and concise plan presented to the public at the next meeting.
“I think the neighbors were looking for a plan of some kind and they maybe didn’t get one,” he said. “You’re going to get people who are angry and don’t want to or don’t have time to find out what’s going on. I think a lot of people feel like the City just doesn’t care.”
Sue Sullivan of the Newmarket Business Association said one problem is that the issue has numerous different paths of success – not just one clear plan that everyone can follow.
“The problem is there is no one pathway,” she said. “I see five or six pathways.”
Fox said that has been the problem for the Working Group as it delved into the issue, and now that’s coming through to the community as well.
“We have to be successful in communicating that this is a very complicated and very difficult problem and we’re going to be playing a game of inches with it,” he said. “We’re used to approaching our lives with problems and solutions, but this isn’t so much like that. The problem, as we’ve learned over the last year, is so multi-dimensional.”Brand added that most people not involved intimately in solving the problem feel that the mayor isn’t interested, despite what he has said.
“People want to know where the mayor is at,” he said. “People think he should be out there walking to the businesses and the alleys and seeing the needles and bullet holes. You need to have the reassurance that the leader of the City is listening to you. That’s the first thing you hear from people – where is the mayor at?”
There has been no second public meeting scheduled for the Working Group, but their next meeting – which is open to the public – is scheduled for Jan. 16.