The city of Boston has a new plan for addressing the long-standing public health crisis in and around Newmarket Square, according to Mayor Marty Walsh and other city officials who briefed reporters on the strategy on Thursday.
Dubbed “Melnea Cass/Mass Ave 2.0,” the intent is to bring services directly to people suffering from substance abuse and homelessness in that part of the city.
“What we have on our hands is an opioid epidemic of historic proportions that is taking hold of too many lives, and tearing apart families in every city and town in our nation,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement on Friday. “Through this plan, we are focusing on the area of Melnea Cass/Mass Ave to make the needed improvements for those who are struggling: those with a substance use disorder, and the residents impacted by this epidemic throughout Boston’s neighborhoods. There is not one perfect solution to dealing with this crisis, but we are committed to doing everything we can.”
The plan has four key focus areas, including connecting those struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) to resources and pathways to recovery, reducing criminal activity, focusing on quality of life issues for residents, and improving coordination and communication of services.
“Those are four primary focus areas of this plan, and what we have done is look at what’s working, what we’re tracking, and where we need to make investments,” Chief of Health and Human services Martin Martinez said. “We’ve created a series of goals that are both measurable— that we can track, and that we can report on to ensure we’re actually making the progress that we want to make.”
The policing component of the plan includes deploying more officers and sergeants in and around Mass Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd. Martinez said that police officers will focus on identifying and arresting drug dealers in the area, as well as trying to connect those they interact with in the area to recovery services, shelters or various other resources. Martinez said that the City has seen a 37 percent increase in violent crimes in the area over the past year.
“There’s always been this focus but we’re trying to double down because when there are people dealing and distributing in this area, they’re targeting the folks that we are desperately trying to help. We are getting more officers involved that are trained to engage with them,” Martinez said.
“We’re going to continue to enforce the laws and focus on quality of life in the neighborhoods,” Martinez said.
“We’re going to continue to deploy officers based on crime statistics, officer service and 311 concerns,” said Michael Stratton, Deputy Superintendent of Boston Police. “Enforcement will continue, but we’re expanding our role as police officers.”
Stratton, who heads the street outreach team, said that three additional officers and a supervisor have been added to the team to enhance efforts.
“Our role is to go out into the community, meeting people where they are and proactively engaging people suffering from substance abuse disorder, mental health concerns and homelessness,” said Stratton. “[We’re] trying to get them to resources that can help them, instead of just moving people from corner to corner. We’ve formed partnerships with the Mayor’s office of recovery services, Pine Street in and other treatment facilities.”
The strategy includes the creation of a 24-member task force made up of City and State officials, businesses and community residents and other provider stakeholders. The plan will also formalize an internal City of Boston Coordinated Response Team, which will meet weekly, charged with monitoring the progress of the plan and work through gaps.
Public Health goals focus on reducing the risk of death and infectious disease through comprehensive harm reduction and drug user health education. Efforts include increasing overdose prevention trainings to treatment providers, community groups, and law enforcement agencies, and providing and expanding resources like clean syringe distribution and disposal.
There will be an amplification in the number of syringe drop off locations around the neighborhood and enhanced clean-up efforts in public spaces and streets, in attempts to improve the quality of life for residents in the area.
Martinez said that the City is working to finish a service model for recovery campuses on Long Island and continues to be in conversation with Quincy and work towards securing permits to build a bridge from the Quincy to the island.
“We have 18 buildings in which we think we’ll be able to put about 500 beds,” Martinez said. Although there’s an immediate need for services that would become available on Long Island, the construction of the bridge will not likely be seen in the near future.
“If we had our permits, we could have a bridge ready to go in two years,” Martinez said.
The effects of the epidemic are concentrated in Newmarket square, but are not specific to the area.
“You may see the issue of the epidemic in this neighborhood very specifically, but this issue is in every neighborhood in Boston. People are struggling with this in every zip code that we have,” Martinez said. “We want to make sure they can get the care they need.”