Situation cannot be normalized, leaders say
While a smattering of individuals appeared to be using intravenous drugs on the sidewalk, a group of business owners from Newmarket and some South End and Roxbury residents made a public call to City officials not to reopen the Comfort Station on Atkinson Street and to make a drastic change to the “open air drug market” that exists in the area.
That call came in direct opposition to leaders in other parts of the South End, most notably Worcester Square and Blackstone/Franklin, who had called for the City to immediately re-open the Comfort Station on Atkinson Street last week. The butting of heads comes also as many areas of the South End that have been inundated with drug and homelessness issues for years, have seemingly turned a corner this past winter and spring. Most of that seems to be in part due to the policy of keeping the quality of life issues bottled up in the Comfort Station. However, businesses in Newmarket and the South End-Roxbury Partnership do not want to see the Station open up and further numb everyone to the drug use and normalizing of “inhumane” treatment.
Sue Sullivan, director of the Newmarket Business Association, has been supportive of the City’s efforts with the Comfort Stations in the past, but said that is no longer the case. She cited there had been 10 stabbings, two homicides and one shooting in that area. She said the growing violence and drug use can’t continue.
“We understand there are people on both sides of the issue,” said Sullivan at a press conference Monday morning on Southampton Street. “We cannot support the Comfort Station re-opening and being operated in the way it was. Atkinson Street is an open air drug market. The Police do everything they can, but they are swimming against the tide. We cannot have an open air drug market. We are not in favor of re-opening the Comfort Station.”
Sullivan said she had been working cooperatively with the Boston Police, as well as with Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s office. However, she challenged DA Rachael Rollins to more vigorously prosecute the numerous drug dealers that come to the area to prey on those with drug issues.
“We’re calling for the DA to please help us in prosecuting these drug dealers…to make sure they’re not back out on the street before the police officers finish their reports,” she said. “People need to understand this isn’t a Boston problem; this is a Commonwealth problem.”
She also called on the City of Quincy to drop its lawsuit in the Long Island Bridge project so that a Recovery Campus for the region can be built on the Island. She also called on Gov. Charlie Baker to push for more treatment facilities and services outside of Boston.
Brian Maloney, who owns Middlesex Truck and Coach in Newmarket, said it’s very hard for him to do business in the area now.
“We had a vibrant business up until the last few years,” he said. “It’s hard to get employees to come here. They’re afraid and our customers are afraid to come here too. It’s devastating. We need Quincy to stop this lawsuit and let the Bridge be built so people can get help again on Long Island.”
Yahaira Lopez, who founded the South End-Roxbury Partnership, said they do not support the re-opening of the Comfort Station because it isn’t humane. She cited that the situation is only getting worse, and they plan to protest again starting this week on the Connector.
“This is a public health crisis,” she said. “We want action now. We don’t have time for Zoom after Zoom and meetings and meeting minutes that aren’t open to the public. This is inhumane. These are parents, siblings, children and it’s not okay…The South End-Roxbury Partnership doesn’t want this Comfort Station re-opened until the City and state can give us a tangible plan.” Two weeks ago, the City announced that they were closing the Comfort Station, which has become infamous for drug dealing and open drug use – as well as upticks in violence in the area. City leaders said they were going to re-assess the Station, and potentially re-open it in two weeks. So far, there has been no communication on the matter from the City, but some sources are indicating the City is leaning towards not re-opening the Station. The two-week closure would end today, April 16.