Guest Op-ed: Our Future Depends on a Solution for the Methadone Mile

By Councilor Frank Baker

There is a very alarming trend growing in Boston. We have the famous “Methadone Mile” in our city and the conditions in this area – known as “Mass and Cass” – are worsening. As a life-long resident of this amazing city, I find myself saddened. The conditions in this area are terrible. But at the same time, I find myself motivated and driven to help fix this before it turns into the same situation affecting some West Coast cities. We need to do something.

If COVID has taught us anything, it is that we need to take serious and substantive action on corrosive issues…or they will grow beyond our capabilities. For years, Mass and Cass has been home to a great deal of vagrancy and drug use — and residents there say it’s only gotten worse, leading to recent neighborhood protests over the continued devolution in the area and our own legislative inaction. We need leadership on this, and we need to act with a stepped-up sense of urgency. In order to enact the right solution, we have to open our eyes to the fact this situation was polluting our streets and endangering our children well before anyone on the “Methadone Mile” knew what COVID was.

There are more people coming in, however there are fewer people seeking treatment. They are coming there seeking a safe harbor for their addiction. This goes beyond just drugs and addiction. This situation is NOT due to COVID but has in some way been exacerbated by it. We can blame a lot on COVID, there are more people out of work — more people out on the street.

So…what do we do?

Mayor Walsh believes the situation at Mass and Cass is one of the biggest challenges the city faces. I agree with him. We have acted, but we need to do more. We have opened an Office of Recovery Services. We have a dedicated Mass and Cass working group that has taken substantive steps to provide mobile bathrooms and cleanup crews around the area and we need to implement a command center to respond more quickly and efficiently to the needs and concerns of the people on the street and the people living in the nearby neighborhoods threatened by the sprawl of the problem.

We need a more robust Section 35 program and we need to educate as many people as possible about the availability of these programs and resources. If we can utilize civil holds and get courts involved in this process, we can complement the hard-working recovery coaches out there trying to help these people get treatment.

We need to take a serious look at decentralizing services. The red tape and lethargy of a burdened bureaucracy only serves to make a situation like Mass and Cass worse.  And in the same breath, we HAVE TO change the way we dispense methadone.

We have approximately 1,000 units of homeless housing in the pipeline, but we cannot just house them. Taking the problem out of our sight and tucking them into subsidized housing will not fix the problem. It does not deliver the help that people need the most. We need real recovery campuses like Mayor Walsh has been pushing for on Long Island and Shattuck. Long Island had been used as a home for people who were homeless or battling addiction, and the Mayor is meeting resistance at every step in his effort to bring this type of resource back into the fold.

They need a lifeline. If we do not act and provide real solutions soon, I fear it will only get worse. And in an environment where COVID is still afflicting the very highest levels of our government, we need actions and legislation that make things better…not worse. Our future depends on it.Frank Baker is a City Councillor for the City of Boston.

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