By Seth Daniel
When Mayor Martin Walsh delivered his Inaugural Address on Monday, Jan. 1, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, most Southenders watching on TV or in the seats did a double take when Walsh announced his commitment to re-open the Long Island Bridge and create a recovery campus on the Island.
That’s mostly because Walsh and the administration have not been keen on the idea of re-opening the bridge or creating any services there. As recently as last fall, Walsh told the South End Forum that opening the Bridge isn’t the answer.
Which is why it was such a surprise, out-of-the-blue announcement on Monday.
The closing of the Long Island Bridge four years ago seemed to unleash a torrent of homelessness and addiction issues in the South End – particularly in the Worcester Square and Chester Square areas. That’s because the programs and shelters that were on the island were transferred to the South End and Newmarket area. For more than a year, many have advocated for returning the programs to the Island and for creating a recovery campus either there or at the Shattuck Hospital in Franklin Park.
It was also a key piece of Councilor Ed Flynn’s campaign. This week, Flynn said it wasn’t about politics at all, but about getting the best treatment to those who need it, and it’s the right move.
“I certainly support the mayor and I know he put a lot of time and considered all options,” Flynn said, noting that he used to work at Long Island when he was a probation officer. “I think he made the right decision. He’s dedicated and committed to helping people deal with substance abuse issues. I’m proud of him for that. It’s a good plan.”
Those in the neighborhood working on the issue in the Opiate Working Group embraced the announcement of re-building the Bridge and creating a recovery campus on the Island – especially one that Walsh said would have a “continuum of care.” That term has become very important because it ensures that the recovery process will not be interrupted by dwindling availability in the final stages.
“We could not be more pleased to learn that the mayor is committed to creating a Boston recovery campus and to fixing the long overdue ‘continuum of service’ recovery model,” said Steve Fox, moderator of the South End Forum. “This commitment is the key to creating a robust recovery environment for Boston and we of the South End and the South End Forum cannot wait to get to work on it with all of our partners and colleagues.”
Fox said he and the Working Group members have envisioned a full-service campus, such as Walsh spoke about, that would include detox, three other recovery stages and then sober house/residential placement. It could also include research, regional outreach to community-based and clinic programs, a centralized treatment inventory and also job training/placement.
“It is the only thing that all the research confirms will work,” he said. “We have the opportunity to do something really special here.”
The Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA), which has been at the epicenter of the opiate epidemic in Massachusetts, also cheered the opening.
Vice President Bob Minnocci said he believes the decision will be embraced by the South End.
“It would provide those in need with comprehensive service, something they’re not getting, due to a number of factors, in the South End,” he said. “I have said repeatedly that moving the Long Island Shelter to the South End was a major mistake, and we should have pushed back on the City. Recreating a campus on Long Island would take a huge load of pressure off South End residents who are bearing the brunt of services for the city’s at-risk populations, which is threatening the quality of life, safety and property of residents. It would also illustrate the administration is now focusing more on residents’ concerns…In short, this would be a win-win for everyone.”
George Stergios, president of WSANA, was delighted to hear of the announcement.
“I was also surprised, but also delighted,” he said. “Much, though not all, of the deterioration in security we have seen in WSANA began with the closing of the bridge, and so I will be happy for us, and for those who need treatment, when the bridge is back up, and the homeless and addiction recovery services are running again. The less time they have to spend on the street, the greater their chance to make it through to recovery.”