City officials this week responded to a video posted by a Boston radio show that featured a man going undercover at the Engagement Center on Mass/Cass, and being told by someone in charge he can use drugs at the Comfort Station freely, but not at the Engagement Center.
The video was an undercover operation by the Kirk Minihane Show – a Boston radio show that specializes in sensational news – and features a man from the show at the Engagement Center on Southampton Street talking with what appears to be workers at the Center. The man is looking for direction about where he can use drugs openly, as the hidden camera pans around the patio of the Engagement Center to show dozens of used needles discarded on the asphalt.
“And even though the police are out, they’ll still let us do our thing?” said the man.
“As long as you’re on the other side (Comfort Station), the other side you can use and do your thing. This side – not so much. You can’t actually have any alcohol or anything. This is more relaxing. You use on the other side,” said the woman, who is not seen on the video.
“Ok,” says the man.
“Yea, so even the police are out they won’t say nothin’ as long as you’re over there,” repeated the woman.
“Ok police don’t really bother you over there,” said the man.
“Exactly,” concluded the woman.
The video was posted late last month, but the Mayor’s Office said this week that they believe the woman speaking on the video was not a staff member at the Engagement Center, though it is hard to tell since she is not on camera.
The Mayor’s Office said drug use is not condoned in either space, and they ask participants at the Comfort Station or Engagement Center the following:
•Use language that is considerate of others. This space is intended to be safe for everyone.
•Keep weapons or objects that could harm others out of the space.
•Do not share medications.
•Selling or purchasing items is not allowed in this space.
•Use the restroom for its intended purpose
•Guests are asked to wash hands often, wear face coverings and practice physical distancing when possible.
The video is shocking to some, but those from the neighborhood in the South End familiar with the video and the conditions on Mass/Cass were not surprised. Most termed it as “old news,” and said they discovered last summer in walk-throughs that the Comfort Stations were pretty much de facto Safe Injection Sites. There hasn’t been a lot of blowback from the neighborhood though for two reasons, several sources said.
First, no one wanted to alert those coming from outside that this was happening and potentially bring more people onto Mass/Cass looking for a free-for-all drug situation.
Second, many have begun to understand that with the current Fentanyl situation, keeping people from shooting up – even in City spaces – is almost impossible.
“So in that way it’s like a SIF, but expecting that we will be able to interrupt the every 3-4 hour fentanyl hit is not realistic,” said one source who has seen people using drugs opening at both locations. “That is the reality of fentanyl. Do they ‘try’ to discourage this, yeah, but it’s not going to happen.”
Operations Command Center on Mass/Cass
Mayor Martin Walsh announced – along with the Office of Recovery Services – that the City is in the process of locating an Operations Command Center for the Mass/Cass public safety operations.
The Boston Police Street Outreach Unit will begin by moving a headquarters into the Miranda Creamer Building at 725 Mass Ave., located in ground floor space under the BMC catwalk. That will be happening soon, and it will be the base of operations.
At a community meeting recently, Jenn Tracy of Recovery Services said it would give them a base of operations to work from, and also give a much needed presence in an area that is mostly vacant and promotes loitering.
Mayor Walsh added last week that there are plans for a full Operations Command Center for the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan in the space. The space is owned by the Boston Public Health Commission, which has okayed the use of the space.