By Seth Daniel
City Councilor Frank Baker might be on a political island when he talks about Long Island, but the councilor who represents the Mass/Cass corridor told the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) on Tuesday night that it’s time for the City to talk about re-opening the Island.
Baker said he would like to see a campus style Recovery Campus in the City – as suggested by the South End Forum and its Moderator Steve Fox – during last week’s hearing at City Hall on Safe Injection Facilities (SIFs) – but isn’t too keen on the idea of locating it in Franklin Park at the off-the-beaten-path Shattuck Hospital Campus. Instead, he said he thinks it’s time to start talking about Long Island again for that kind of Campus idea.
“It’s a pipe dream for sure and I’m the only one whose saying that,” he said. “However, I’m going to start asking for the discussion of Long Island. If it’s $100 million (to replace the Bridge) this year, it’s going to be 110 million next year, and 120 million the following year and probably $200 million in five years. We need to get a discussion going about locating programming back out there, even if it’s just the partial programming that was done there.”
Baker said he envisions being able to take those seeking recovery and locating them on the Island so that addicts can get away from the access that exists on Melnea Cass and that he believes would also exist at the Shattuck.
Programming could include housing, Recovery services, job training, farming and some medical care.
“We need a different approach,” he said. “The way we did it at Long Island in the past; I don’t know if there was enough engagement there. I think we need to have a discussion about Long Island and that discussion would be about building that Bridge back and getting some of the programming out there.”
Four years ago the City abruptly announced that the Long Island Bridge had to be closed immediately due to the fact it had been condemned. That also meant the shelter on Long Island and the services provided there had to be relocated to the mainland. Most of those replacements were located in the South End, and that was supposed to be on a temporary basis, but neighbors argue it is seeming to become permanent. The administration hasn’t said definitively whether or not it plans to replace the Bridge and re-activate the shelter, but insiders have indicated that it seems the thinking around City Hall is not to pursue a re-build. However, as said above, there has been no official decision announced.
Baker said he believes it would work because things are done very differently now in the Mass/Cass corridor than they were done even a couple of years ago.
That includes a new effort by Boston Police where they can “Section” someone who is being routinely arrested in the corridor and force them into a 30-day detox. That comes if the family of the individual goes before a judge and secures a Section 35 Pink Slip, which gives Police the authority to remove a person who is a persistent problem from the street and send them to a detox by force.
The idea is an old one, but emerged anew through the efforts of Judge Kathleen Coffey to help relieve some of the tension in the South End.
Baker said Police have begun using the “Section” process only in recent weeks, but to great success.
WSANA neighbors were in favor of the discussion on Long Island, as the group has long held that the situation in their neighborhood – which is Ground Zero for the Opiate epidemic on its streets – got exponentially worse when the City closed the Bridge and the shelter.
“I think we need to start taking the edge off of what’s going on down here,” Baker said.