Just hours ahead of a rally that attracted several hundred angry neighbors that were fed up with conditions on Mass/Cass, the City released the long-awaited progress report on the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan unveiled last October to great fan-fare.
Since that time, the six-month progress report was stretched to 11 months due to major complications produced by COVID-19 in the homeless and drug using communities in that area.
On Thursday afternoon, that report was released and highlighted gains in the short-term and long-term – highlighted in great part by the pivoting work done to reduce the COVID-19 outbreak in vulnerable populations this year and the tremendous work done by Public Works over the last 11 months in the South End.
The report marks progress in short-term and long-term strategies that guide the City’s work on public health, public safety and quality of life issues that im-pact individuals who are struggling, and their surrounding communities.
“This report details the strides we have already made in accomplishing the goals of the Melnea Cass/Mass Ave 2.0 plan, which has required the work of many partners who have dedicated their time, resources and expertise to help us meet our goals,” said Mayor Walsh. “This report also discusses the ways in which the COVID-19 public health emergency has exacerbated existing inequi-ties and presented new challenges. As we continue to battle the pandemic, we are providing supportive services for individuals struggling with substance use disorder, while also implementing public health and safety measures to improve quality of life for the entire Boston community.”
Steve Fox, moderator of the South End Forum and a 2.0 Task Force member, said the Public Works has been an outstanding part of the plan.
“One of the unsung but greatly appreciated resources that has made a differ-ence at Mass and Cass is our dedicated Public Works folks,” said Fox. “For sev-eral months, dedicated resources and an aggressive plan to keep up with the volume of street debris, trash, and people on the streets and in our parklands has been a saving grace as we struggle with the crisis of addiction, homeless-ness, and mental health we see at Mass and Cass. In the city’s most challenging environment requiring a multi-disciplinary approach to both the day to day and longer term, Public Works has been there to make a welcome and tangible difference; we both recognize and appreciate their key contributions.”
Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said she looks forward to working on the Task Force to upend more challenges presented by COVID-19.
“Since we come from different backgrounds, the members of the Task Force offer unique and different perspectives on the impact of the opioid epidemic and challenges presented by COVID-19,” she said. “From building a permanent Engagement Center to increasing the presence of outreach workers, the pro-gress report for the Mass and Cass plan represents feedback from stakeholders directly impacted and involved. With the onset of COVID-19, this work is ur-gently needed and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with city officials and community members throughout the Task Force.”
•Responding and recovering from the COVID-19 public health emergency
The City detailed that COVID-19 has been a tremendous factor in changing how they approach and address the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan. The report stated there were many sudden changes to the plan and to those that implemented it due to COVID-19 workforce reallocations.
“All City services remained operational during the public health emergency with adaptations made to programming to maintain physical distancing and ensure public safety measures,” read the report. “This includes greatly expanded out-door space at the Engagement Center (located behind the 112 Southampton Shelter) to maintain guest capacity, the addition of six handwashing stations in Downtown Boston, the shifting of outpatient services to telehealth, and imple-mentation of additional COVID-19 screening, testing, and infection control measures at shelters and residential programs.”
The report indicated the Mass/Cass Task Force continues to plan and reevaluate the services and resources available after COVID-19 in order to ensure ongoing and uninterrupted coordination, and engagement and providing pathways to substance use disorder treatment and housing.
•Coordinating, communicating and aligning services
The report lauded the convening of the Coordinated Response Team that pretty much meets in person or by phone several times a week, if not daily. Also, the continued meetings of the 25-person Task Force was another point of note.
One piece that came late, but was rolled out this summer, was a website and dashboard with statistics and information.
“To help raise public awareness of the collective efforts in the area, the City launched a dedicated website that outlines the City of Boston’s strategy to ad-dress these issues,” read the report. “The website includes a data dash-board with City metrics within 0.75 miles of the Mass/Cass intersection and a map with all resources in the area. These will be actively maintained with up-dates, and new and existing data sources will be leveraged to better understand the impact outside the area.”
•Connecting those struggling with substance use disorder with resources and recovery
One of the biggest points for the plan is getting people off the street and into treatment or housing. The report detailed several programs that have been in-creased or expanded, including the Post Overdose Response Team and the in-tensive case management within the STEP program.
“Through a pilot program to develop individualized housing plans for chronically homeless individuals in Mass/Cass, the City has housed 162 individuals since January,” read the report.
The report also announced that the Engagement Center – a temporary tent structure in Newmarket that offers a place to go during the day – will become permanent.
“The City has been working to construct a permanent Engagement Center which will serve the same number of individuals to get off the street and connect with care. Construction is slated to begin this fall,” read the report.
Other highlighted areas in the plan included:
•Focusing on quality of life issues for residents and businesses
*The 2.0 Plan created a dedicated Public Works team to the Melnea Cass and Mass Ave area to provide daily street cleanings every day in the area, in addi-tion to increased additional ground sweeps of Boston Public Health Commission, Parks & Recreation Department and Boston Public Schools properties.
*Boston EMS’s Squad 80, which responds to incident call types with low fre-quency of transport was expanded to seven days a week, freeing up more am-bulances and connecting more individuals to city services, including shelters and recovery programs.
*The number of street outreach workers through the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services was doubled to assist with harm reduction efforts in the neighbor-hoods and increase engagement.
•Ensuring public safety for all residents by reducing criminal activity
*The BPD Street Outreach Unit was created, which currently includes five officers and one Sergeant under the direction of a Deputy Superintendent. Their mission is to promote community-based outreach through partnerships and collaboration to those affected by mental illness, substance use disorder and homelessness. They aim to connect these individuals to services before they engage in criminal activity or public disorder.
City Releases Long-awaited Mass/Cass 2.0 Progress Report Ahead of Rally
Within the progress report on Mass/Cass 2.0 was a tidbit of information reveal-ing that the litigation between Quincy and Boston on the opening of the Long Island Bridge could be close to another milestone.
The biggest hindrance is the Quincy Conservation Commission’s denial of Bos-ton’s permit to re-build the bridge. The City has filed in Suffolk Superior Court to reverse that decision, and on Aug. 27 there was progress.
“On August 27, 2020, the Court held oral arguments on the merits of Boston’s challenge. Due to the complex legal and factual questions raised by the litiga-tion, a decision could be expected within 30 days from the date of the hearing,” read the report.
One of the remaining state permits is the Chapter 91 License from the Massa-chusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). With its submission to DEP, the City has concluded the administrative completeness review for the Chapter 91 License and expects to receive that License shortly.