Showing a fair amount of his own frustrations over the Mass/Cass situation, Mayor Martin Walsh appeared at the South End Forum’s annual Chat with the Mayor meeting Monday and discussed the City’s plan with residents online – noting that the severity of the problem now makes it such that Boston can no longer handle it alone.
The South End Forum hasn’t met in its quarterly format for quite some time, being limited by scheduling conflicts several times in 2019, and then giving way to the pandemic restrictions since March. However, Moderator Steve Fox said he wanted to revive the meetings to continue the tradition of hosting the mayor, and the meeting was a general success – touching mostly on issues of homelessness, public substance abuse issues and other quality of life matters tied to those issues.
Particularly emotional at one point, when addressing decentralization of services outside the South End, Mayor Walsh said it is beyond time for cities and towns outside of the City to begin to help more. He said with COVID-19 adding to what was already an epidemic with opiates, the City can no longer shoulder the burden alone.
“We have to go beyond decentralizing services in Boston to decentralizing services in the Commonwealth,” he said, getting very animated in the discussion. “We need other cities and towns to step up here. If you go to Mass/Cass or Woods Mullen or Roundhouse, and ask where folks are from, I would bet 50 percent would not say Boston. I’m not someone that’s going to put them on a bus and send them back, but we need their communities to step up and have more programs out there. We’ve had this conversation with the state…They need to help us. We’ve had guests at Southampton (Shelter) that just came out of prison – not county prison but Walpole or Devens. They shouldn’t be given a one way ticket to Boston. So many people looking for drugs or treatment come here from all over Greater Boston. The issue is we can’t continue. We’ve been the place forever that provides services and treatment for people. Right now, with the pandemic in adding to it, we need help.”
That conversation was couched between a couple of different instances where the mayor said he – having gone through recovery and had family and friends suffer from addiction – would not load outsiders up and send them back. While New York and other places have done that, he said as mayor he would not. He used an example of how, even though the City of Quincy is fighting Boston over the Long Island Bridge that is critical to establishing a regional Recovery Campus, and many of those seeking services in Boston are from Quincy, he would never turn anyone away from Quincy.
“Can you imagine if I dropped them off in Quincy Center?” he asked. “The inhumanity of doing that. I’m not doing that. It’s just about time people step up and help us a little, and I don’t mind getting criticism for Mass/Cass…but we need people to step up.”
The mayor had clear frustrations with the situation on Mass/Cass, but he also was quite frustrated with Quincy and its continued legal fight to block the re-building of the Long Island Bridge. Many of the legal challenges have fell Boston’s way, he said, and the Chapter 91 state waterways license is expected any day, and a ruling on part of Quincy’s environmental challenge is being considered now in Suffolk Superior Court. That said, he was frustrated that efforts to resolve the matter, and assurances that Boston wouldn’t develop luxury condos on the Island, have gone unanswered by Quincy Mayor Tom Koch and Squantum Councilor William Harris.
“I’ve reached out to them and told the councilor in Quincy and the mayor in Quincy that we will not develop luxury residences on Long Island,” he said. “I’ve said I would put that in writing with the Quincy City Council and the Mayor. They didn’t take me up on that offer.”
The Bridge and Recovery Campus is a key component for neighbors in the South End to get some relief from the growing numbers of people that have swarmed into Mass/Cass over the past seven months. Walsh said they have plans ready for the Island’s services, and they know the programming they want out there. He said the development of the campus would go in tandem with the construction of the Bridge.
However, he upset many in the neighborhood in the midst of that conversation by saying he doesn’t think the elimination of the Bridge or the services on Long Island caused the issues on Mass/Cass – a widely held belief in the South End.
“I don’t think the situation has continued because the Island shut down,” he said. “I think it’s much larger. The main reason for Mass/Cass is the opiate crisis…I don’t think the closing of the Bridge added to Mass/Cass. The crisis and not having enough programming in this country for treatment contributed to it. That’s my opinion.”
The mayor also addressed another sore spot in the neighborhood, and that is the narrative that overtime cuts to the Police Department from the City Budget are contributing to the worsening conditions on Mass/Cass. The mayor said he was very mad when he heard that excuse, and he assured residents it isn’t true.
“That has not happened,” he said. “If it has happened, I need to know about it…If anyone is giving you the excuse it’s overtime cuts, it’s simply not true. When I heard that, I was pissed off. There’s been no overtime cuts I’m aware of.”
The message above all from the mayor Monday night was primarily one about Mass/Cass – which is now affecting more than just Worcester Square, but further into Tremont Street and Columbus Avenue. He said the plan put out last fall – Mass/Cass 2.0 – was working, and he said right now everyone is trying to get back to the gains that were made before COVID-19 hit.
“I know there is criticism of our plan, but 2.0 was working to a solution and we were making gains on that,” he said. “Then we had COVID-19. What we’re trying to do is restore those gains we had in the neighborhood.”
•STOP SAYING ‘METHADONE MILE’
The mayor was also quite frustrated with the media using the term ‘Methadone Mile’ in their reporting, something that is very common on television news reports about the Mass/Cass issues. He also criticized them for broadcasting and publishing images of vulnerable people living on Mass/Cass.
“I don’t mind if people call it ‘Mary’s Mile, but to label it ‘Methadone Mile’ is so disrespectful,” he said. “Those people are there because they are sick.”
As an editorial note, the Boston Sun stopped using the term ‘Methadone Mile’ five years ago as a result of reporting on the Forum’s Opiate Working Group. Since that time the paper has reported using Mass/Cass or ‘the corridor.’ At times, it has appeared in quotations or when paraphrasing the words of others. Additionally, the Sun makes a point to not publish photographs of those living on or inhabiting Mass/Cass out of respect for them and their families.