Standing at Orchard Gardens elementary school, Mayoral candidate John Barros last week announced his three part plan for addressing the concurrent opioid epidemic, public health, and public safety crises at the nexus of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, more commonly known as “Mass & Cass.”
“Boston has been experiencing the tragic and long-reaching consequences of the opioid epidemic for far too long. Mass & Cass is struggling under the weight of an overly dense concentration of services. In Boston, it’s the epicenter of pain, sorrow, and tension. It’s not fair to anyone,” said Barros. “With this plan we can strategically deliver quality, yet de-densified health care and services to those in need, while simultaneously enhancing the neighborhood’s quality of life and designing a continuum of care for residents seeking recovery in Boston and throughout the region. I’m calling on the City of Boston to act on my proposed immediate steps – we’ve waited for relief long enough.”
In order to address the compounded challenges, Barros has outlined a three-part approach consisting of actions he will take on day one once elected Mayor of Boston. Below are summaries of each step.
Immediate Work: Appoint a Special Advisor for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, who will be tasked with reforming the way the City coordinates and provides services to people struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. They will immediately assemble a team with the intention of quickly providing services to those who need help. Below are some of the initiatives they will be expected to undertake, and they will be encouraged to add more as solutions begin to emerge.
•Create a large, multi-disciplinary street outreach team available 24 hours a day that includes social workers and health care workers appropriately trained to deal with a range of people and issues. This means creating new and supporting existing outreach jobs – which pay family-sustaining wages and provide support and good working conditions – to alleviate the high rates of burnout we have seen at Mass & Cass over the years.
•Hire three new liaisons in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services to oversee constituent services to neighborhoods impacted by the concentration of services at Mass & Cass.
•Establish a City of Boston Operations Center near Mass & Cass to operate 24/7 throughout this crisis. This will include a dedicated team from Public Works, Transportation, EMS, Parks and Recreation, and other City agencies, as well as teams from the appropriate state agencies, hospitals, and CBOs.
Short Term Work: De-densify services, reimagine the way services are delivered, and share the accountability, both throughout Boston and surrounding communities. The work must be across jurisdictions and methodical to identify, by name, each person and their needs, and then meet those needs.
•Create a strategy team that will oversee daily communications with all providers in the area, including the State, Newmarket Business Association, neighborhood associations, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders.
•Work with community health centers and other health care facilities in Boston to create needle exchange programs in other parts of the city to incentivize proper disposal of needles.
•Explore methadone home delivery systems, which will eliminate the need for people to come to Mass & Cass for methadone treatment. Hundreds of people come to Boston every day for methadone treatment. Eliminating their need to travel will cut traffic, and keep patients safer by not exposing them to the open-air drug market that has emerged at Mass & Cass.
•Convene a regional summit to discuss the crisis and resulting challenges with surrounding cities and towns, and ask them to do their part. There are shelters in other cities and towns that require the user to be from that town and/or have ID. We all have to work together to help the people who present themselves for help.
•Advocate to the State for more treatment beds, as well as short- and long-term residential treatment centers, all of which are spread out around the state. This will require the State’s support to ask cities and towns to do their part.
•Convene a Citywide Relocation Task Force, charged with exploring how some services currently centered at Mass & Cass could be broken into small groups and moved elsewhere, either within or outside the city. The Task Force will work towards reducing the number of shelter beds near Mass & Cass.
Long Term Work: Establish a recovery campus on Long Island and expand the continuum of care for those struggling with substance use disorders in Boston and the region.
“At the heart of this epidemic are the thousands of people and their families who are suffering. I do not believe there is a family in Boston that does not have experience with addiction. I’ve seen it first hand in my family and community. It’s part of what motivated me to go into public service. It’s a moral imperative for us to use the resources we have to implement bold solutions, and we must shoulder the weight of those solutions together. As Mayor, I pledge to put these plans into motion on day one, and will bring all organizations together at the same table to tackle this challenge together.”
For full details on John Barros’ Mass & Cass Plan, please visit www.barrosformayor.com/massandcass.