With every “deposit” made on the doorsteps of South End residents, and every needle found by a child in the park, and every person passed out in the front stoop – residents from all walks of life and races and economic statuses were headed to a breaking point.
With conditions deteriorating on Mass/Cass and surrounding areas of the South End more than ever before this summer, that breaking point came last Thursday evening, Sept. 4, when more than 100 neighbors from either side of Mass Ave came out to protest and stop traffic in the name of demanding a different approach to handling the vulnerable homeless and drug-using population congregating at the area in record numbers.
“We live on this corner and at least three or four times a week I come out of our house with my daughter and see someone shooting up on my stoop,” said Makeda Payton, as her little daughter Ashlynn Williams stood next to her on the corner of Washington Street and Mass Ave. “There’s needles all around. We have to keep shoes on all the time (no sandals) because there are so many needled. The parks have needles all over them. You have to be very careful.”
Said Greg Jackson of Worcester Square, “This standout is energizing. We must keep up this energy. I’ve lived in this neighborhood 40 years and my husband and I are talking about moving because we don’t know if it’s worth it anymore. We’re scared to go out of our house because we find comatose people with needles in their arms. It’s unlivable. The elderly are afraid to go out of their house. They say they’ll do something and they’ll do better…All they’ve done is changed the name from Methadone Mile to Mass/Cass. Enough is enough.”
That was exactly the message put out by Yahaira Lopez and the new South End-Roxbury Community Partnership for the standout on Thursday evening. Lopez said beforehand she didn’t know what to expect at the standout, but they wanted to send a message of making it a comfortable neighborhood for all. She said she didn’t know if they’d get 10 people or 200, and in the end it was more like 200.
The energized crowd took over all four street corners, called attention to major problems like the re-opening of Long Island and the absence of Gov. Charlie Baker on the issue. They stopped traffic on Mass Ave and generally got their point across in a very animated fashion.
“No more poop, on our stoop!” they chanted over and over.
“No more needles, on our sidewalks,” they said over and over.
At the conclusion, Lopez took to the microphone and said the effort was a good one, but they needed to do more than yell and scream. She said they hoped to continue the effort with meetings at City Hall and the State House. With letter-writing and other actions as well.
“We have to be organized,” she said. “This is a great start. This is a good turnout for a good reason.”
One of the threads in the standout was humane treatment, and more and more neighbors don’t necessarily want to remove or kick out all of those on the corridor, but not to put them on display as they are now. That humane position also coincided with a major call for decentralization of services from the South End – a promise the City made to neighbors that they say hasn’t materialized.
“If every neighborhood in Boston had a Methadone Clinic we wouldn’t be here,” said Chris Sheehan. “People are obviously fed up and they don’t see an end in sight…You come to Boston, a world-class city, and go through the tunnel from the airport and take the first exit to Mass Ave and this is what you see. You have to say, ‘My God, what is this place?’”
Added Joao DePina, “Mayor Walsh’s hands have been tied with this issue and he can only do so much. We need Gov. Baker and we need Quincy to open up the Bridge. The people are comfortable in that makeshift animal playpen (Comfort Stations) they made them. That’s an animal playpen for humans. There is no dignity in that.”
Ashley Curran also spoke, detailing how her son, Damien Hughes, was murdered on Mass/Cass July 31.
“My son was killed at 7 a.m. in front of the shelter by a mentally ill man who needed services,” she said. “These kids are coming from the suburbs. Damien was from the suburbs. They’re coming here and hanging. These suburban cities aren’t doing enough. They’re not doing anything. They don’t want to address it. So they come here.”
That was echoed by a good many in the crowd who actually live on Mass/Cass and participated in the neighborhood standout.
Adam Gascoyne participated in the rally and said he’s been living on the streets for 10 years in some fashion. He said he is a smart person, interesting in learning new things, but had a tragedy in his life that he couldn’t get past. He said no one – including now – can give him the help he needs.
“It’s all the same; it’s all cookie cutter help,” he said. “There’s not the kind of help I need to get past this. I’m a smart guy, but I was a troubled kid. There should have been something for me to go where I could get the help I needed in high school and find success and thrive. Instead, I didn’t get along very well in my school and I got booted. I don’t know why there wasn’t another option.”