Only weeks after Orchard Gardens K-8 school staff told the Sun about homeless encampments at their school and a student getting stuck by a dirty, discarded drug needle on the playground, the school community rallied once again on Tuesday to say that not much has changed.
Though the school has been dealing with the unsavory fruits of the opioid epidemic in their schoolyard for some time, the school at the epicenter of the problem on the Mass/Cass corridor began speaking loudly this month.
Initially, the shocking reports of homeless, addicted people camping on their schoolyard, and a student getting stuck with a dirty needle, prompted action and promises. However, students and parents said they are still finding needles and other such problems at the school.
On Tuesday, they staged a standout in front of the school, holding signs that begged Mayor Martin Walsh to speak up.
Walsh said Wednesday morning it is unacceptable that children are dealing with dirty, used needles in their school environment. He said there are many things being done.
“It is completely unacceptable for young children in the City of Boston to be exposed to needles of any kind, particularly while they are at school,” he said. “We have taken steps to protect our students from the harm of the opioid epidemic by increasing the capacity of the Mobile Sharps Unit, prioritizing substance-use education and prevention, and training staff on how to properly dispose of any encountered needle.”
Marty Martinez, chief of health and human services, said parents and students may not feel like things are changing, but many things are being done behind the scenes.
He said it is a delicate balance that they’re trying to achieve.
He said making sure the school environment is safe and free of dangers is a top priority, but he also said they need to do everything they can to make sure the folks in the neighborhood that are dealing with a disease get the help they need too.
He said they have mobilized the Sharps Team to make a sweep every morning at 7 a.m. at the school, and that’s been happening. He said they remove needles and debris.
He also said they have been using the bike cops, even in the cold, to go to the school early and move people along from the school ground and the parking lot. They have also added four outreach workers to the area, and will be bringing on two more soon. They will be charged with interacting with the addicted community in the area and making sure they can get to services.
He added they just had a meeting on Monday with the Police, School Department, Office of Recovery Services, and the public health agencies to see what more could be done to eliminate the issues at Orchard Gardens.