Seeing It All : Businesses at the Opioid Epicenter Hoping for Help

Gerry DiPierro is a noted and talented contractor in the South End.

DB&S is a long-standing, high-quality lumber yard in Newmarket.

Neither business has anything to do with opioids, but employees and owners have become experts on the matter by virtue of their locations – a forgettable side street called Gerard Street in the Mass/Cass area that is the focal point of the City’s and State’s epidemic.

“Last year and this year, but this year in particular, things have really tipped,” said DiPierro inside his construction showroom. “In 10 years, things have never been this bad. It’s a vicious cycle. It breaks your heart. Every day I come in and their sleeping in front of my door. The other day I found a girl there who was only 15. She was just a kid, and there on the street. I have five girls so I can really identify with it. It breaks your heart.”

Across the street, at DB&S Lumber Yard, Manager Neil Kane said the company has been there since the 1960s, but now they find themselves barraged with as many people suffering from opiate issues as they do with customers seeking building materials.

It has never been as worse as it is this year, he said – noting that last spring on a Saturday morning business was disrupted by seven overdoses on the 50-yard stretch that fronts their yard.

Two, he said, were fatal.

In a corner of the yard, on the other side of their chain-link fence and the new fence the City built last fall is a rip-rap encampment that Kane said moved down to his yard when the fence was built last year. In a tiny space about two feet wide between two tall chain link fences, Kane showed a living area carved out for those actively using drugs – with blankets, pillows, clothes, trash and everything else providing an illicit nest for bad behavior.

Likewise, in front of their office on Gerard Street lies the vestiges of the epidemic, including needles, drug supplies, discarded clothing and tall grass.

“We have to clean up the needles they throw over our fence every day,” he said. “My employees are smart. They know how to be careful now. We used to try to keep the front clean every day, but now we don’t. There are just too many needles and it’s too dangerous. They even hide stuff in the trees. You have to watch out. I have a family member that wants to get into law enforcement. I told them not to come down here. It just seems there’s no regard for life here.”

DiPierro, who has an office overlooking the intersection, said he has seen it all – and has made time to watch and observe what’s happening. He pays five veterans who live on the streets to clean up the trash and human refuse daily.

Others, he said, can often find their way inside via a different route.

“I have a real problem with people pushing their way in the door when customers or employees open it,” he said. “They come in and they won’t leave until I give them money. One girl squeezed in the door behind a customer and fell on the floor and screamed until I gave her $20. Then she left. You see that a lot.”

But it doesn’t end there for DiPierro’s company.

He has a hard time keeping tenants in his retail space, his employees often quit for fear of going outside, customers don’t like coming to the showroom, and he cannot find a cleaning company that will stick with it.

“Clients don’t want to come here,” he said. “I’ve asked them to come here and they ask me if I can come to their house instead. I have a great showroom, but I really don’t have client meetings here because of it. I have 2,000 square-feet and no one will rent it…The bike guy took off because he couldn’t get out of his shop…I have a hard time here with employees. I have to assure them I have cameras and screens so they can see what they’re walking into out there. We had to move the secretary upstairs. It’s touchy situation because I get it.”

He added that similar, and even worse, things happen to businesses in the surrounding area on a frequent basis.

He said one thing that is starting to get out of hand this year is the prostitution, with drug dealers stationing girls further up the street in exchange for drugs.

“That’s something I’ve seen more than ever this year and I’ve been around here 25 years,” he said.

At DB&S, Kane said they heard quite a bit about the Corrections Officer that was assaulted in recent weeks – a case that got widespread coverage. However, he said law enforcement getting attacked is nothing new. He recalled several incidents, including one that happened last year when a young officer and an older sergeant were making an arrest outside the lumber yard.

“He punched the younger officer in the face and then the other people came and the (sergeant) couldn’t handle all of them,” he said. “They were in trouble. I saw it and we all came out to help. I had a guy close by in his car who came out with a tire iron and stopped it and we were all able to hold them down until help came.”

DiPierro remembers one crafty drug dealer who stationed himself on the corner wearing clothing that made it appear he was law enforcement. He stood there stoic for two weeks and appeared to be part of the police force. However, he was just a very crafty dealer.

“I told the police I appreciated them stationing him right there across the street,” said DiPierro. “They told me they didn’t station anyone there. I went back and looked at my videos and realized he was a dealer. He had a car parked there and the users knew he was dealing, but everyone else left him alone because they thought he was law enforcement.”

The stories could go on and on, but the solutions aren’t so easy.

Both Kane and DiPierro and most business owners in the area are sympathetic. One cannot get a bad word out of them about the people they encounter. They both said they hope that there can be solutions found that will end the suffering.

“What I see is that it’s not all the people coming down here for services or the programs that are causing problems,” he said. “It’s the 100 to 600 that don’t go to the programs or the shelter. They go out as far as the South End Library…If you do a big sweep, and get them out of there, they just go to the South End, Bay Village, Back Bay and around the city. Then they come back in a week or so. The big question is how do we address those that don’t want to be addressed. That’s what we need to figure out to help things.”

For DiPierro and others in the “hot corner,” they have a lot of optimism for new Mayoral Advisor Buddy Christopher – who formerly headed up the Inspectional Services Department. Christopher recently addressed the Newmarket Business Association, and DiPierro said he felt that Christopher was the right one for the job.

“I feel like he could really be the one that makes a difference,” he said. “When he spoke, he was on point. He’s a smart dude. He was saying the right things…He has compassion and wants to solve this, but he can also cut through the baloney. Hopefully he can really help.”

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