By George Stergios and Bob Minnocci, Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association
Three weeks ago, Pine Street Inn leased the Roundhouse Suites and added another 180 homeless people to the Mass & Cass area, where there are hundreds already living in shelters, hundreds living on the streets, and hundreds visiting every day. Some are here to get the addiction services that their Boston neighborhoods and Massachusetts towns refuse to provide, and some are here to participate in New England’s largest open-air drug market.
Because of the COVID-19 emergency, Pine Street needs more space to spread out is clients, and since, according to it, no one else in Boston or outside of Boston was willing to lease it space, it was forced to choose the Roundhouse, smack in the middle of an area that has seen three stabbings, two fatal, in the three weeks since its clients started to move in.
In case of emergency, press Mass & Cass.
We who live here know the drill, for we have seen it so many times before. When Mayor Walsh declared that the Long Island Bridge was unsafe, that emergency brought the Long Island homeless population to the gymnasium at the South End Fitness Center on 35 Northampton St., and then to 112 Southampton St. When the overlap of the homeless and people experiencing substance-use disorder led to chaos on the streets, the City opened the Engagement Center behind the homeless shelter. The City introduced both the homeless shelter and the Engagement Center as temporary but now cedes they are permanent. When the pandemic struck, the BMC’s old East Newton Pavilion was requisitioned as an isolation and treatment center for the homeless and a “Comfort Zone” was opened in the Woods-Mullens parking lot to provide washing and toilet facilities, and just a little bit of distancing, to those living on the street.
The mother of all these emergencies was the opening of the Ahope needle exchange on 774 Albany St. in 2013, which the Menino Administration did without informing the neighborhoods. It hands out most of the 2,000 needles a day that the City gives away, many of which end up in our gardens and on our steps. The availability of free needles has made the Mass & Cass area the go-to place for everyone experiencing substance use disorder in the city and state. Clean needles attract drug users, who attract drug dealers, who attract more drug users. Mass & Cass has become Mass Chaos.
The emergency behind each of these decisions is identical, and it is not the need to prevent HIV or hepatitis, the collapse of a bridge, or a sinister virus. The real emergency is the shameful refusal of almost every other neighborhood in the city and state to take care of their own instead of packing them off to Mass & Cass. As if once we accumulate every human misery in one location, they will cancel each other out. As if the presence of active drug users and their dealers helps those trying to get or stay sober.
Because we opposed the intrusion of the Pine Street Inn into Mass & Cass and oppose any extension of its 12-month emergency lease, we will be shamed as NIMBYs, but there is more than one kind of NIMBY. Those of you reading this who live outside of the South End, Lower Roxbury, and Roxbury are the true NIMBYs, NOTHING IN MY BACK YARD, no matter what the emergency. When we say not in my back yard, we do not mean nothing in our back yard, because almost everything is in our backyard. We have 55 percent of the homeless beds in Boston, 1,300 daily visits for methadone, the only brick-and-mortar needle exchange, Health Care for the Homeless, the BMC Emergency Room, Rosie’s Place, and more. They all do great and necessary work, but it is not necessary that they all do it in the same place. The concentration of services endangers those seeking services. We, in fact, are not NIMBYS, but NEIMBYs, NOT EVERYTHING IN MY BACK YARD, or BHOBYs, BOSTON HAS OTHER BACKYARDS.
So for all of you ready to pounce and criticize us: open your first homeless shelter before you criticize us for resisting our fourth, open your first methadone clinic before you criticize us for resisting our third, and stop forcing your addicts to journey here for the clean needles that keep them alive. If the federal government, moreover, ever allows Boston to open a Safe Injection Site, advocate for the first one to open in your neighborhood. We are waiting.