By Seth Daniel
Mayoral coffee hours tend to border on the whimsy, but Tuesday’s time with Mayor Martin Walsh in Monsignor Reynolds Park was anything but whimsical.
Instead, the annual event became a sounding board for frustrated residents of East Springfield Street and Worcester Square. Those residents had a pointed conversation with the mayor to demand more action and more resources be devoted to protecting their neighborhood from the exponential influx of addicts and homeless people now wandering the streets.
Alexandra Krottinger and her fiancé, Mike Lisivich, – along with a horde of other East Springfield Street neighbors – spent more than 15 minutes talking directly with the mayor about the need for something more to be done.
“I’m a resident of the city and have been a resident of Boston my entire life, and at this point, I’m sad because I can’t wait to leave because it’s not a safe place to raise children,” she told the Sun. “He said to give him six months (at the South End Forum last fall), and it’s been way more than six months, and the situation is unbelievable. It’s worse than ever in the South End…We’ve created an atmosphere where it’s safe and okay to shoot up and do drugs right in plain sight. The South End is frustrated and rightly so. I don’t want to hear about a block party at Peters Park or a concert in Blackstone Square. I’d rather all of that funding went to help solve this problem. If it doesn’t, this community will deteriorate to the point where it cannot come back.”
Parker Wellington III, who moved to East Springfield Street a few years ago, said he finds about 10 hypodermic needles a week on the street, and constantly deals with people overdosing or high. He said he calls 9-1-1, but there is not much of a response, and needles can stay on the ground for 24 hours or more before someone comes to pick them up after a 3-1-1 complaint.
He said it’s crisis time for neighbors, and this summer is shaping up to be the very worst that he’s seen.
“I’m glad to hear all the things they’re doing, but it’s not enough,” he said. “It’s completely taking over our street. The dealers are still on Harrison Avenue…We just aren’t devoting enough resources to take this…When you call 9-1-1 or 3-1-1, they are responsive, but they’re not quick, they’re not pro-active…It just feels like our little corner of the city is being left to rot.”
For Krottinger, she said many in the neighborhood have participated in the Task Forces and the planning groups, but those efforts unveil interesting ideas but little change. For her part, she said she would like to sell her place and leave, but she cannot. She said neighbors have found that, despite having nice properties, an address near Methadone Mile is an impediment to buyers.
“I would like to sell and leave, but I can’t because it’s well known that no one should buy anything on East Springfield Street,” she said. “I think (Mayor Walsh’s) responses today were non-responses. He’s redirected us to other people and no one is coming up with holistic plans.”
Walsh, for his part, did not dodge the issue, but stood his ground and listened intently. As many said, he took the heat on a hot day.
Prior to what became a tight circle full of agitated residents confronting the mayor, Walsh said his administration is active and doing things. He talked about the new Tent – a day center slated to open soon for those on the streets who don’t want to come into the shelters. He also, most importantly, said he has reached out to the state to make sure the shelters and methadone clinics and human services aren’t all bore by Boston.
It’s time, he said, for a regional approach to the problem.
“We need you’re help to identify people who are on the street and need intervention,” he said. “Quite honestly, half of the people who come here don’t live in Boston. I’ve approached the state to help us…I don’t think it’s our responsibility in Boston to take care of every single person that comes down there to be in the City of Boston.”
He said it’s time for the cities and towns around Boston to step up, with help from the state, to provide services to their own residents rather than pawning them off on the Methadone Mile.
He also said he didn’t think the methadone clinics in the area were pulling their weight. He said the methadone is supposed to be supported with counseling and clinical check ups, and he’s not sure if that’s happening.
“I’ve been around recovery a long time, and I don’t know if that other side of recovery is helping there,” he said.
Walsh did talk about the Tent, which is a low-barrier day center on Southampton Street designed to give people a place to stay during the day – a place that would also serve as a place to reach out to addicts and the homeless with services.
“A lot of people on Mass and Melnea don’t want to go to the shelter; they don’t want to come in,” he said. “So we’re going to provide a space for the day to give them coffee and water to get them to come in and then we’ll reach out to them with services. I don’t know if that’s the answer, but it’s one answer.”
Walsh and his staff promised to follow up with residents and said they would continue to appear at Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association meetings with updates, and they would continue to work with the overall neighborhood on the Opiate Task Force.