The liaison from the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) to the Mass/Cass 2.0 Task Force gave a grave report on Tuesday night about the lack of direction of the Task Force – saying that without two community members driving the agenda, he felt the effort would be stalled out.
Mike Nelson, who has served as the WSANA liaison since the formation of the Task Force in 2019, said he has grown frustrated and concerned with the lack of progress and ideas at the Task Force. He said without the steadfast commitment of volunteers like Newmarket Director Sue Sullivan and South End resident Steve Fox, he felt the Task Force would be lost.
“What I see is these are genuine people working and trying to do their jobs, but it’s institutionalized,” Nelson said. “I don’t know that we have the right experts to make the change we want to make…Mistrust isn’t at the top of my list of grievances.
“In the time we’ve been talking about mobile bathrooms, human kind has developed a cure for a disease that didn’t exist before we started that conversation,” he continued. “What we’ve accomplished on bathrooms is we may have $125,000 in next year’s fiscal budget. If it’s not going to be more productive, it’s not going to be worth my time. I can’t imagine where we’d be without Steve Fox and Sue Sullivan driving the bus every month.”
The Task Force was formed when the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan was formed and is made up of about 24 residents, business leaders, City officials, institutional leaders and non-profit leaders. The purpose of the Task Force was to be a cauldron of innovation where community, government and experts brainstorm new ideas and test them out to try to bring peace to the opioid epidemic still raging in the Mass/Cass area – and increasingly into the rest of the South End and Roxbury.
Nelson said he has expressed a lot of frustration at the Task Force meetings lately with the lack of progress, and he said innovations aren’t the result of great ideas at the Task Force, but “superstars” in the recovery world doing what they do best.
“There have been advances at Mass/Cass, but I don’t think they’re the result of a Task Force coming up with great ideas and trying new things,” he said. “I think what you’re seeing is community groups and other groups that are rock stars.”
Nelson said that if it were a priority, things would get done, and he praised the work of Special Assistant to the Mayor Kim Thai, but indicated it seemed like she was alone in the work – and isn’t sure how much support she has behind her with former Mayor Martin Walsh now gone.
Members of the community said they weren’t surprised by the report, but also said it was confusing as there are funding commitments in this year’s budget for Mass/Cass to continue. However, with Nelson’s report, they aren’t certain what direction the community should go with the plan.
One key note, which was announced at the March meeting, was that conditions and quality of life have improved significantly in WSANA over the winter and spring months.
The mobile bathroom debate has been a very hot-button issue and it was discussed at the WSANA meeting as well. Previously, there had been pushback from neighbors about whether or not it was a good idea, and whether it would attract people doing the wrong things when it was parked at its daily location.
The mobile bathroom has now taken the form of more of an RV type of vehicle that provides bathrooms and a host of other services as well. It would spend about one-third of the time parked around Mass Ave and Albany Streets. The other time would be split between Nubian Square and Copley Square.
Residents of WSANA have been urged to contact Councilor Frank Baker for a budget item of $125,000 if they approve of the mobile bathrooms. The idea would be funded in the City Budget if there is enough support from the community for it.
•MUSIC TO THE EARS
WSANA Music Director Craig Hughes reported that it is very likely the outdoor concert series could resume this summer given the most recent announcement of protocols for the upcoming spring and summer months.
“We are exploring it and based on CDC guidelines and the City of Boston guidelines, we should be able to do something outside in Worcester Square Park in June, July and August. We’ll have something to say on that at our May meeting.”
The concert series is a staple of the summer months, but mostly was cancelled last year. One concert did get pulled off in the Park last summer, but that was it.