Addressing the homeless population in the Fenway was a main topic of discussion at the Fenway Neighborhood Improvement Committee (NIC) public meeting on Jan. 17.
Councilor Josh Zakim, Sen.Brownsberger, City Council candidate Kristen Mobilia, members of the Fenway CDC, Pine Street Inn staff, and plenty of community members gathered at the Morville House to share updates about what’s been happening in the community, especially with their Communicate and Connect partners in the Back Bay.
The NIC has been working to gather information about the homeless population in the Fenway, in order to provide them with the appropriate services. “We’re at the point now that we know about people out there; connecting them with the appropriate department,” said Richard Giordano of the Fenway CDC. He added that they are trying to work with groups like the Pine Street Inn “at least on a monthly basis.”
Mike Andrick from the Pine Street Inn said that the organization facilitates an Area A1 meeting, where they partnered with the Back Bay to adopt their program for helping the homeless. “That program seems to be working here [in the Fenway] as well,” Andrick said. He said that as a member of the outreach team at Pine Street Inn, he and his team define what the needs of the homeless are, whether it be medical, addiction challenges, or mental health concerns.
“We’re consistently trying to engage folks,” Andrick said. When there is criminal behavior going on, that’s when they partner with D4 for targeted interventions. “It really takes a village,” he said.
BPD Officer William Slyne emphasized that people in the community should not hesitate to call 911 if they see an unresponsive person or anything that warrants attention from the police or medical professionals. City Council candidate and community activist Kristen Mobilia reminded everyone that you can now text 911—this makes it even easier to call attention to issues in the community. Giordano added that 311 should still be called if needles are seen.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to have the data from those
911 calls,” said Zakim. This will help alert property managers to the
seriousness of this issue, he added. He said it is “not just a Fenway-specific
problem, but we need to get on top of this and partner with organizations like
Pine Street Inn” to tackle issues of recovery from all angles. He also thanked
Berklee School of Music, who the NIC has partnered with, and said that it’s
especially important since
the federal government isn’t doing anything to help us these days.” “We need to make sure we’re proactive about this,” Zakim said. “We cannot arrest our way out of this issue.”
NIC Co-Chair Stephen Sorkin said that many residents do not know what an arrestable offense is. “You need to have this laid out for you so you know what the police can do and what they can’t,” he said.
“A lot of trespassing is not arrestable unless they’ve been issued a warning,” Officer Slyne said. He said that people should be extremely careful with needles, and that the “first priority is to help these days.”
A member of the community made a suggestion that an information campaign be put together for the community in the form of flyers. She said that the flyers should let people know that 911 is appropriate, as well as provide a resource list for people to refer to. “I think an info campaign would be a really beneficial way to add to the multi-pronged approach,” she said. She said the flyers should be given out to the whole community, especially people who don’t come to these meetings.
Giordano said they have been working on that information with the Communicate and Connect subgroup, but “we do want to work on exactly that [for the whole community],” he said.
Issues of where the homeless people are located and the fact that they are dispersing to different areas were also discussed. Andrick said that the Fens area was “very active over the summer,” but due to the work of the D4 police, the Pine Street Inn, and others, it was handled appropriately. He added that this area is not active right now because of the weather and D4’s presence.
Sen. Brownsberger said he’s very dedicated to getting the phragmites in the Fens trimmed, as this is where a lot of the issues were over the summer. He said that the parks department has been trying to get state permission to mow them, but current state law says they cannot be cut. “It looks like the answer to that is no,” Browsnberger said. But he’s working with the city to file legislation to say that those reeds can be mowed. It will have to go through City Council, be filed in the state house, and then passed before that can happen, but “I’ll be back at this meeting reporting on it until it’s done,” he assured the community.
The NIC also touched on some traffic concerns towards the end of the meeting. Kevin Anderson of Berklee said he has been working with Marie Fukuda from the Fenway Civic Association on several traffic issues, such as the crosswalks on the ramp at Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street. He said that they are headed in the right direction as of Spring 2019, “thanks to Sen. Brownsberger.”
“MassDOT has recognized that it’s theirs to fix,” Anderson said.
He also said that they are working with some of the businesses on Boylston Street to possibly put in a bike corral in a parking space for people to partake in local businesses. He said they are still working on that, though it’s been delayed.
He also said that they did a walkthrough with neighborhood liaison Nick Carter “to take a look at the speeding problems on the streets.”
Carter said they identified a few places that “could stand to use some improvements,” and they are working to set up a meeting with the Boston Transportation Department. He said that they found no speed limit signs on their walkthrough, so they are working to get those up, as well as signs that show drivers their speeds—especially on Hemenway Street In addition, Carter said they are looking to update a few crosswalks and install flashing pedestrian walking signs at certain locations.
Carter also said there is potential for a mural project overlooking the Edgerly playground, but they would first have to strip the old mural because the paint is chipped. They are also trying to get to graffiti throughout the neighborhood “as best we can,” he said. Giordano ended the meeting by saying the working group will continue to meet and work on getting updates for another general public meeting.