Mayor Walsh today released details of a plan to clean up Methadone Mile and Newmarket Square through additional resources and workers aimed both at "deconcentrating" addicts and homeless people by getting more of them into treatment and shelters - some outside those areas - and through faster cleanup of the needles and other detritus they leave behind and stepped up police presence.
Walsh is also asking local churches, residents and businesses to help - churches by providing more resources to shelter and aid addicts, residents and businesses by forming a new volunteer group to watch over local kids as they walk to schools in the area.
Central to the plan is the idea that addiction is a public-health issue, not a criminal one:
The City of Boston is committed to preserving the safety, health, and dignity of its residents and all persons engaged with its services in all its programs and activities, and across all departments and agencies. We also believe that with respect to the opioid epidemic, public safety begins with public health. That means prioritizing the health of both residents and those struggling with substance use disorder, and, where possible, diverting people away from the criminal justice system and into treatment. Decreasing criminal activity in the surrounding neighborhoods remains a high priority. Additionally, the City of Boston acknowledges that substance use has historically been criminalized in communities of color rather than treated as public health issues. We believe that following evidence-based practices, and embedding these practices in all City departments engaged in this work, is necessary to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
The plan starts by discussing details of how to help the drug addicts and homeless people who now congregate in the area:
The plan calls for the city to hire eight additional street workers to try to connect people on the street with the services they need. At the same time, the plan also calls for those workers to try to get people into programs closer to where they're from, to reduce the number of people congregating in the area. A separate Boston Police outreach unit would be expanded from two to five officers and a sergeant.
Five public buildings in Methadone Mile will be equipped with naloxone kits to revive opioid users who have overdosed. Training of local first responders, treatment programs, businesses and community groups in how to prevent overdoses will be stepped up; a city team targeted at helping people who have overdosed will increase its visits to them.
To help draw people away from the area, the city will create three new stations where addicts can exchange used needles for clean ones outside Methadone Mile.
At the same time, the city will begin monthly testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases at three existing locations inside the area. And it will step up programs aimed at women.
A task force of city agencies and the Pine Street Inn will "create a targeted list of 40-60 unsheltered persons to be prioritized for assessment, referral and placement." The Boston Public Health Commission will work more generally on getting homeless people into shelters or home - which will include financial aid to get people into housing, as well as "transportation aid to reconnect with family or social support systems" outside of the area.
Among the proposals to "deconcentrate" people from the area:
Work with faith community to expand low-threshold day programs that provide welcoming environments, address basic needs (food, clothing, access to bathrooms, etc), and create referral opportunities.
Increase referral to low-barrier overnight drop-in programs outside the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area, where vulnerable people can be safe and get off the street.
Work with City and non-profit partner agencies to explore expansion of additional low-barrier night time drop-in programs in other
To clean up the area, the plan calls for the city to hire two new fulltime workers to find and remove needles and syringes and add more drop boxes where people can deposit used needles.
A city water truck will flush streets every day at 5 a.m. in Worcester Square, Mass/Cass itself, Harrison Avenue between Melnea Cass towards East Newton Street and Dudley and Andrew Square. Also, the city DPW will hire four new workers for a "special operations team" aimed at cleaning up the streets around Mass Ave. and Melnea Cass, and will assign more hokeys to patrol the area. On Mondays and Thursdays, police and the city Mobile Sharps Team will sweep the bus depot below Reed Street every Monday and Thursday.
Boston Police would dedicate four officers and a supervisor between 7:30 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. to the area from Worcester Square to Mass Ave. and three officers and a supervisor to Southampton Street and Mass Ave. 24 hours a day. A two-person cruiser would patrol the areas around the Orchard Gardens and Mason schools and Clifford Park 24 hours a day. The BPD bicycle unit, meanwhile, would focus on Worcester Square, Mass and Cass and Harrison Avenue, along with Blackstone, Franklin and Ramsay parks. Two bicycle cops would be stationed specifically to the Dudley Square area.
Residents will also be called on to help out. One goal is:
Implement a coordinated neighborhood clean up twice a year through Love Your Block and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
The parks department will do two daily needle sweeps of Clifford Park, at 8 a.m. before schools start and at 2 p.m., before they get out. Also:
Institute Safe Corridors initiative to help maintain school properties and playgrounds are safe and free of dangerous debris. Safe Corridors would be a formalized volunteer effort to maintain safety around schools in hotspot areas. The program would be a collaboration between the City, businesses and community members and would aim to provide extra support and welcoming route for students traveling to and from school. Volunteers would opt to patrol routes around schools at the start and end of the school day or to keep watch from their homes or businesses.
311 will get a new entry for homeless encampments, which will mean a special city team responds both to get people living in them to shelters or treatment and will "remove any debris or hazardous materials from encampment site within 48 hours of alert."
The plan also calls for trying to make the area more attractive through a "welcome" kiosk at Mass and Cass that would include "signage demarcating Newmarket Square business district, creating a sense of place and information hub for business owners, residents, etc." as well as banners that would hang from utility poles along Melnea Cass Boulevard "creating a sense of place/identity for this area of the city."