In some circles, the South End has been accused of being NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) when it comes to the fight against new and existing human services in the neighborhood.
Most outside of the neighborhood are quick to jump on that bandwagon.
But those inside the neighborhood have always contended that the concentration of services in the South End is like none other, yet they could never back it up with numbers.
Now, with the help of South End resident Desi Murphy, Forum Moderator Steve Fox and the Opiate Working Group – those numbers have sufficiently been crunched.
“I have felt it was unfair people are advancing the narrative that the South End is being NIMBY when we are shouldering an inordinate amount of the problem,” said Murphy. “A lot of people walk around here or drive by and wonder what in the world is going on here. I don’t think they realize that the Mass/Cass area has become the regional treatment center. This is a regional challenge and not a Boston only problem. People drive by and say it’s a mess, but they don’t realize this corner is trying to treat Boston problem, along with the entire region’s problem.”
Murphy moved to the South End about one year ago, along with some other family members, and planted some roots here. A pharmacist by trade, he knew what the neighborhood was like, but became alarmed by the activity in his alleyway. He felt that the neighborhood was shouldering the burden of suburban cities and towns who don’t have services, so instead of making the claim, he set out to prove the claim.
No one had ever done it in the world of government, or if they had, they weren’t sharing it.
Encouraged by Fox and others, he began crunching numbers from public information documents and websites to find out just what services are in the South End and how that compares to the rest of the city.
Fox said the information, while a working document that can be revised and edited, is good information for neighbors when going into discussions with service providers of all types who want to start something new or expand an existing service.
Before, he said, the community had to operate in the dark and by anecdote. No one knew exactly what was here and in what concentration.
A startling find was that the South End has four homeless shelters and at least half of the adults, according to data, are not from Boston. In fact, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George has backed that up recently in saying that more current numbers indicate that could be as high as 60 percent.
His research shows that the South End holds 3 percent of Boston’s population, 4 percent of its land mass, and 55 percent of the single adult homeless population – a concentration that many believe leads to the quality of life problems.
Needle clean up requests via the 3-1-1 system were also very high in the South End, likely a result of the oversized drug addiction problem. While clean up requests are not an exact science (one call could be for five needles or five calls could be for one needle), Murphy said there is something to be taken from it.
Though only 3 percent of the population, the South End zip code had 45 percent of the City’s needle clean up requests in 2017, and through 2018 so far, the neighborhood has 49 percent of the requests.
Meanwhile, the South End hosts two of the five (40 percent) Methadone Clinics in Boston, and one of six acute Methadone detox licensees. It also had a large share (28 percent) of the City’s total Suboxone prescribers, which has been attributed to the siting of Boston Medical Center there.
And, according to a report done for the City of Boston in 2015, at least 50 percent of the people accessing addiction recovery services in the South End are not from Boston. They come, Murphy said, from outside of the City.
That begs the larger question, and the answer Murphy hopes to convey with his huge amount of private research is that more regional services need to be located closer to those that need them.
For instance, he said, Quincy has a disproportionate number of opiate deaths in Norfolk County, but have closed down services and are trying to block Boston’s plan for a recovery campus on Long Island (accessed only through Quincy).
While Quincy averages about 25 percent of the total deaths in Norfolk County, it only accounts for 13 percent of the county’s population. It has been proven that many Quincy resident access services, along with many from the region, in the South End.
Murphy, Fox and many others in the neighborhood believe that the state needs to develop (and perhaps mandate) the siting of regional treatment/recovery campuses across the state – much like regional vocational schools function throughout the state with several municipalities coming together physically and financially at one facility. Instead of the region flocking to the South End for help, they can get help closer to their homes.
“The first thing I took away is the mayor and the City are doing everything known to society to try to treat the population that’s here,” he said. “Second, I think we need to work as a region on this and with the state and team up with everyone. We’re all in this together and as the cost of living gets higher in the city, this will only get worse. Regionally and statewide we need to offer more services in more locations that are closest to the most affected population.”
He finished by citing public health data showing that Suffolk County, including Boston, doesn’t even have the highest numbers of opiate deaths by percentage. That, in fact, is claimed by Middlesex County – one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.