New City Hall Mass/Cass liaison presents to Working Group

The new special assistant to the mayor for the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan made her first appearance on Tuesday afternoon at the South End Forum Opiate Working Group.
Kim Thai, who was long the director of planning and zoning at Inspectional Services (ISD), appeared at the meeting to announce she had been named the new special assistant last week. Thai was long the second-in-command at ISD behind former Commissioner Buddy Christopher, but now will oversee the day-to-day operations and implementation of the Mass/Cass plan – which was unveiled nearly six months ago.
“Just one week ago the mayor appointed me as the special assistant to the mayor on Mass/Cass 2.0,” said Thai. “My work isn’t taking away from anything being done, but to enhance the implementation of the plan…and coordinate it better…Chief (Marty) Martinez has done an admirable job putting the plan forward, but he also runs a nine-department cabinet and has other priorities too. It was thought there needed to be a position to focus on the day-to-day implementation of the plan.”
Many at the Working Group have already begun coordinating with Thai on the new 24-person Mass/Cass Task Force, and all believe that it will not conflict with the work that has been done by the Working Group over the last six years.
“We think the Working Group is a feeder organization to the new Task Force at Mass/Cass 2.0,” said Steve Fox, a founder of the Working Group and member of the new Task Force. “We’re the nuts and bolts and the bread and butter group for the neighborhood where the Mass/Cass area is the primary focus…We don’t see duplication. We see this group as an opportunity for people to come and talk about neighborhood issues. This is where on-the-ground issues will be able to filter through. I hope this group will remain a feeder of issues to the Task Force.”
Thai agreed, saying the Task Force had to be limited in number, but the Working Group can be attended by anyone concerned about the plan.
“The Task Force had to be limited to the number of seats because when a group gets too big, voices get lost,” she said. “We’re looking at the Task Force as an incubator space…I think the Working Group is really important because it’s a venue for everyone not on the Task Force to have their voice in the discussion.”
Neighbor Brian Gokey said one of the clear issues in the community is lack of information and goals.
“People ask all the time when will this plan happen,” he said. “That’s a pervasive question we hear all the time in the neighborhood. Communicating goals and timelines with neighbors is extremely important for this effort.”
Thai said they are coming up on six months, and as part of the 2.0 Plan, a detailed report on goals and accomplishments is required. She indicated they will have that likely by the next Working Group meeting.
A major rift that has consistently arisen between neighbors and City officials and providers has been access to clear and informative data. While the community wants cut-and-dry numbers for things like needle pickups on public property, City leaders and providers have been hesitant to let such numbers be the only thing telling the story of the Plan and recovery efforts for vulnerable people living on Mass/Cass.
Resident Andy Brand – who has produced very detailed heat maps and statistics around needle pick-ups using 3-1-1 data – has been pushing for better and more complete data on that subject.
Others in the community have joined him. He said from his data research, he has learned that needle pick-ups spiked before last summer’s Operation Clean Sweep, indicating through data that there was a problem.
“There was a great spike after Operation Clean Sweep, but actually the numbers were much higher beforehand,” he said. “I think Operation Clean Sweep was a result of the needle pick-ups and not the cause.”
That has consistently been the data that neighbors have called for, in addition to EMS calls, overdose numbers and those entering recovery programs from the corridor.
Some providers, however, caution that relying on data alone could skew the story. Jim Greene, of the Department of Neighborhood Development, indicated the South End might be more adept at calling for needle pick-ups than other neighborhoods – which could skew numbers and the storyline.
“I would argue the South End is incredibly woke when it comes to using 3-1-1 to report discarded needles for needle pick-up,” he said.
That is likely going to continue being a give-and-take as Mass/Cass 2.0 promises a transparent dashboard of data available to the community, but deciding what that data will be has been at issue.
That took up a great deal of the discussion on Tuesday, and there was no clear consensus on what the data points should be, except for the accountability numbers like how many people have gotten into recovery.
One of the issues that the City is currently working on and about to unveil is a protocol regarding how to approach disbanding encampments on public property. Such an issue has been a harbinger in other cities like San Francisco and Seattle dealing with the opiate epidemic where large encampments have gotten a foothold.
Thai said the City is about to unveil the protocol, which would be distributed to every City department from the Police to Fire to EMS to Recovery Services and beyond.
“We’re finalizing the policy right now,” she said. “The agencies involved are all included in the Encampment protocol. It’s going through legal to make sure it’s okay.”
Meanwhile, Sue Sullivan of the Newmarket Business Association said she got word that the Homeless Bill of Rights legislation – which was believed to be defeated – had been revived. She said she got a call from Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz’s office looking for direction.
One of the things the legislation does is it prevents officials from moving encampments off of public property. Instead, it gives such encampments the right to be there.
Sullivan said Sen. Diaz is the chair of the committee where the legislation is now sitting, and that there is a hearing on it March 13.

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