The Fenway neighborhood could soon form a committee to address homelessness and the opiate crisis in the community. On June 25, the Neighborhood Improvement Committee (NIC) held a public meeting to discuss ways of addressing this widespread problem and ways that people can be proactive in the neighborhood.
Featured speaker Meg Mainzer-Cohen, President and Executive Director of the Back Bay Association, discussed how a similar committee in the Back Bay has worked to help with homelessness and increase safety and how it could be a model for the Fenway. The Back Bay has partnered with the Boston Police, Pine Street Inn, and local businesses, according to Mainzer-Cohen.
“We’re seeing homelessness and poverty in our daily lives,” she said. “These are human beings who did not choose, in many, many cases, to end up where they are.”
She said that in Back Bay, they started to see the a “tremendous influx” of homeless people, and people from the community started to get involved and decided that there are two different avenues to choose from: “I want all these people to be gone,” or “How can we help these people?” Mainzer-Cohen said.
So the Back Bay Association brought together the police, Jim Greene from the Department of Neighborhood Development, Pine Street Inn, the Department of Mental Health, and others to form monthly meetings to talk about problems “in sort of a broken record sort of way,” she said.
She said that this sort of “complaining” was not working to actually solve the problem, so she knew they had to do something else.
“The city has not created this problem,” said Mainzer-Cohen. She said that people are coming from across the state and across the country because of the services that Boston offers. “We are sort of the catch basin for a lot of mentally ill people and programs,” she said.
Instead of the monthly meetings, they decided that a biweekly meeting where a group of specific homeless outreach teams, the business community, hotel managers, D-4 Captain Sweeney, and people who are out on the streets recognizing people get together and discuss in detail what they saw since the last meeting would be more beneficial.
“We call it communicate because we’re communicating who we’re seeing and what, and connect, because we’re connecting people…with services,” she said. “We’ve really started to make some progress through this very regular, very repetitive process.”
She said that it’s not always the same people at the biweekly meetings; people come when they are able, and communication off-hours via email has been helpful as well in connecting people with resources. She also said that people are encouraged to call 911 independently of the biweekly meeting and to be proactive on their own.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but communicating and connecting is what it’s all about,” said Mainzer-Cohen.
Mainzer-Cohen says that this issue is ongoing, and though the problem cannot be solved, one person at a time can be helped through connecting people to the services that are offered in the city. She stressed that members of the community should call 911 if they see a person in distress, and to be specific when describing what they see.
“The nature of how you communicate is important when you’re talking to 911,” she said. For example, she said that reporting that someone is non-responsive is better than saying that someone looks like they’re sleeping.
“911 and 311 should be the two main points of contact,” said City Councilor At-Large Annissa Essaibi George. If it’s a medical safety issue, 911 should always be called. 311 should be called for things like improperly disposed needles.
Neighborhood Improvement Committee Co-Chair Stephen Sorkin said he’d “be happy to chair a committee in the Fenway.” He said he “challenges” the Fenway CDC, the Fenway Civic Association, the Fenway Garden Society, the YMCA, the merchants and their representatives to “make the formation of this committee a reality.”
He said they will work to set up a biweekly meeting and be willing to work with anyone who wants to help. “Let’s make this a reality,” he said.
Richard Giordano, Policy and Community Planning Director for the Fenway CDC, said that he is trying to compile a list of resources to call and hopes to have it prepared by the next NIC meeting in the fall.
“I’m very proud that in all of these groups in Boston that when we talk about quality of life, we’re actually concerned about the quality of lives of people who are homeless,” said Jim Greene of the Department of Neighborhood Development. “A big part of this is getting all the help we can to all the people we can.”
There will be a meeting on July 19 from 6-8p.m. at the Fenway Community Center to hear from those who have contributed to safety in the Back Bay Fens and how community members can contribute to safety in their neighborhood parks.