As the City’s Mass/Cass 2.0 team has pivoted entirely to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the population on the corridor, residents from the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) reported a noted uptick in the instances of ‘bad behavior’ happening on the alleys and side streets of the neighborhood.
The topic has radically changed for WSANA as the 2.0 plan has been totally focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19, testing and caring for the population on the corridor. That has seemingly drawn away from the major efforts that were seeing success earlier in the winter months – particularly the police presence in the area.
Mike Nelson, a neighbor and liaison for the community on the 2.0 Task Force, presented at the WSANA meeting Tuesday night – which incidentally was the first South End neighborhood meeting to go virtual in the COVID-19 era.
“Our last meeting was focused entirely on the City’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic as with everything else in our daily lives,” said Nelson. “The number one matte for attention right now is the Coronavirus and the response to it. The virus has reached the population of the people who are in the Mass/Cass area.”
That, perhaps, has focused attention away from the huge police presence that was brought on by Mass/Cass 2.0 last fall and winter.
Peter Sanborn said he has seen a noticeable uptick in problems, and he and others wondered if the police were being occupied with the COVID-19 responses instead.
“There seems to be a lot more presence of the street population back into the neighborhoods and particularly in the alleys,” he said. “I’d say there is a marked increase in bad behaviors recently. The police had a marked presence before. I know we’re in extraordinary times, but I don’t know if other residents are seeing this.”
Others also confirmed they aren’t seeing the police as much, and there are also some upticks in drug dealing and like behaviors in the alleys.
Nelson said there is a new effort now being unveiled this week to try to focus on getting large congregations of the street population off the corners. The Comfort Stations have been located by the Woods-Mullen Shelter and another at 1010 Mass Ave. in Newmarket. He said the tent structures have bathrooms, hand-washing stations, outreach activities and part-time staffers. They are open from 2-6 p.m. A police officer from D-4 is stationed in a cruiser outside the Station.
“The idea behind this is to disperse the crowds from the intersections,” he said. “They initially were going to have four or five of them, but they started with two on Monday.”
The Comfort Stations did draw some controversy. While they are supposed to be in effect only during the pandemic emergency, some neighbors felt it was an expansion of services and might not go away.
“Here we go again with more services in the South End,” said Andy Brand. “It’s like Long Island again. It was supposed to be temporary, but it wasn’t…We’re supposed to be going forward, but it feels like we’re going backward.”
President George Stergios said he has been fighting for the long-term spreading out of services in the last few months, and understood the argument by Brand and others. However, he said he felt this was a short-term measure in the midst of a pandemic.
“These are real emergencies,” he said. “The whole thing about spreading people out isn’t something we can do now. We can’t move them now to Dorchester or Beacon Hill. They don’t have the time to do that. The decentralization of services is a long-term plan and can’t be overnight. I think we pushed them quite hard to open up services in those neighborhoods where these people are from and not here in WSANA.”
Nelson also shared that the overall Task Force is listening, but little is being done on that now.
“The Task Force is at least hyper-aware of the issue, but I can’t report to you of any positive action on that other than the usual answers that they are working with partners in other parts of the city,” he said.
That is one thing Nelson said he hopes will become clear in the six-month report. The 2.0 plan had a six-month report that would put on paper progress, or lack of, on all of the points in the plan. Things have already been delayed, such as the computer dashboard data project, but the report is expected to come out in about two weeks nonetheless, Nelson said.