A little over one month into the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan, the City announced the 24-person Task Force this week that is charged with overseeing the implementation of the plan – which has already had some measurable gains.
The Task Force has 24 members, and five of them are residents of the South End – with one member raising some controversy already.
“The opioid crisis is a national crisis that’s negatively impacting neighborhoods and families across the city,” said Mayor Martin Walsh. “We are fully committed to addressing concerns on Mass/Cass by increasing outreach to get more people the help they need, expanding opportunities for homeless individuals to get the homes they deserve, and increasing police presence in our neighborhoods to keep everyone safe. But people are still struggling, and we will continue to double down on our efforts, never turning our backs on people who are at the most vulnerable time in their lives. There is no one perfect solution to dealing with this crisis, and I’m asking for us all to work together hand in hand as a community to fight this fight, and ultimately save lives.”
Those from the South End include:
•Rev. Dr. Jay Williams, United Methodist Church
•State Rep. Jon Santiago
•David Stone, Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association
•Steve Fox, South End Forum Moderator
•Mike Nelson, South End/Worcester Square resident
Already, Nelson is drawing some controversy as many felt others were going to be chosen. Nelson has been somewhat involved in the opiate debate, but does not regularly attend the South End Forum Opiate Task Force. A resident living at the epicenter of the debate with a background in public works, he was famous locally for taking pictures of every drug needle he came across and posting it on social media. While he has attended the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) meetings, he isn’t in the leadership at the organization, and it was said that the City didn’t confer with WSANA about the choice.
Others on the Task Force include:
•Allison Burns, Hope House
•Aubri Esters, Users Union/SIF Now
•Barry Bock, Boston Health Care for the Homeless
•Karen Antman, BU School of Medicine
•Lavell Fulks, Madison Park CDC
•Linda Dorcena Forry, Suffolk Construction
•Lyndia Downie, Pine Street Inn
•Michael Mancusi, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center
•Michael Botticelli, BMC
•Michael Coelho, Mass Probation Service
•Leemarie Mosca, Rosie’s Place
•Sue Sullivan, Newmarket Business Association
•Megan Webb, Orchard Gardens K-8
•Annissa Essaibi George, City Council
•Frank Baker, District 3 City Council
•State Rep. Liz Miranda
•Sheriff Steve Tompkins
•Pattie McCormick, Andrew Square Civic
•Stephen Wright, Roxbury resident
Police, Outreach Presence Helping
One of the first parts of the plan has been the re-engineering of a special BPD Diversion Team under the direction of Supt. Michael Stratton. That team supplements the efforts lauded in the community by the local D-4 Police precinct, but takes a specialized approach to getting people in recovery.
From Oct. 1 to Nov. 18, the full team of five officers and a supervisor have been hired and have made several interventions already. In that time period, the City said there have been 259 outreach contacts, with 27 going into voluntary substance use recovery placements. There were 10 Section 35 patients and eight voluntary psychiatric placements.
Team member Dan Howell told the Opiate Working Group that they are also actively engaging with people and helping them return to support networks if they live outside of Boston, and also helping them access resources near their home community. That comes due to the fact that more than 40 percent of those in Boston’s shelters are not from the City, and that number has been stated as high as 60 percent at times.
“We try to find them resources that is closer to their home so they don’t have to come here,” he said. “We’re hitting the area with boots on the ground and talking to individuals on the streets. We find out where they’re from and if they want to go to recovery, they can get into the back of the car and we’ll go. If it’s in Falmouth, we’re going. We’re hooking them up with recovery coaches and sober homes.”
Director of Recovery Services Jen Tracy said the City has received state funding of $750,000, and that will be used to hire more outreach workers dedicated to the area.
“The funding is in place and those positions have been posted,” she said.
In addition, a list has been compiled of about 40 to 60 individuals that frequent the Mass/Cass area. That list is now being reviewed by a new team comprised of the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), Boston Public Health Commission, and Recovery Services. That team will serve as a coordinating group to continue to identify those folks and engage with them – the goal being to house and place them in residential programs.
Some of the very first steps between Oct. 6 and Nov. 10, the City said, was at the Engagement Center. In that time, the Center averaged about 865 client contacts per day. Of those, 720 accessed medical services there and 56 clients received referrals for treatment providers. The PAATHS program made 301 treatment placements in that time, and beginning on Dec. 16, the Engagement Center will expand its hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m..
Quality of Life
In the realm of cleanliness, the City has formed a team to address the problem areas in and around Mass/Cass, including encampments often found on Melnea Cass Boulevard.
As of this week, a Public Works Special Operations Team has been hired, which includes three new hires and one internal promotion. They are currently conducting early morning cleanings. Additionally, daily cleanings of Clifford Park are currently happening in Newmarket.
Finally, there is work being done on trying to spread out services to other parts of the City.
Jim Greene, of the DND, said they are working right now with current providers to see how existing spaces can be used in order to reduce the pressure on the Engagement Center in the South End, as well as other resources there too.