A vision of Hell in our city

by Lew Finfer, Special to the Reporter

Last Friday at about 1 p.m., I was driving along Southampton Street between Atkinson and Bradston streets just before it links up with Mass Ave. at its intersection with Melnea Cass Boulevard near both the Boston Medical Center and the Suffolk County House of Correction. This area is referred to, variously, as “Mass and Cass”, the “Methadone Mile,” and the “Recovery Mile.”

There were about 200 people sitting and standing on the narrow sidewalk with several feet of trash in the street in front of them down the length of the block. They looked like they were suffering a lot. Surely, no one would ever want to be there. Additionally, some squalid tents had been pitched on the side streets.

When I went by again at 3:15 p.m. after a meeting at the House of Correction, I saw that many of the people had left for the day – the city has some mobile trailers nearby which give people some help. The city had done some cleaning up, but some people remained along with the sad-looking tents.

This activity reportedly repeats itself almost every day with pimps and traffickers and drug dealers mixing among those who are addicted, homeless, or suffering

I’ve lived in Dorchester for more than 50 years. As an organizer, I’ve been on many of my neighborhood’s streets over those years, walking along them and knocking on doors, not just driving around. So, I’ve seen my share of problems, especially in the 1970s when we had more than 1,000 abandoned homes. I was also a victim of street crime at night in Dorchester five times in the 1970s and 1980s when I didn’t have a car.   

I haven’t seen Third World poverty in person, but what I saw on that city block in Boston last week was vision of Hell in the middle of what is overall a very prosperous city.

There is some attention being paid to “Mass and Cass.” The city has convened a task force to deal with the situation, and the Globe had a recent article about what the mayoral candidates propose to do about it. But much more needs to be done.  We have to ask Mayor Janey and Gov. Baker to do more. We need state Rep. Jon Santiago’s help as he represents this area and has a special view of things as an Emergency Room doctor at Boston Medical Center treating some of the desolate. More food, clean needles, drug treatment, mental health therapy, emergency and permanent housing, job training and placement all have to be part of the solution.

Of course, the situation is complicated: You can’t force people to accept help. But those who have seen “Mass and Cass” at its worst up close know that more can and must be done.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident.

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