Commentary: We must help those struggling at "Mass and Cass"

There is a very alarming trend growing in Boston. We have the famous “Methadone Mile” in our city and the conditions in this area – known as “Mass and Cass” – are worsening.

As a lifelong resident of this amazing city, I find myself saddened. The conditions in this area are terrible, but at the same time, I find myself motivated and driven to help fix this before it turns into the same situation affecting some West Coast cities.

For years, “Mass and Cass” has been home to a great deal of vagrancy and drug use — and residents there say it has only gotten worse, leading to recent protests over the continued devolution in the area and our own legislative inaction.

To enact the right solution, we have to open our eyes to the fact this situation was polluting our streets and endangering our children well before anyone on the “Methadone Mile” knew what Covid was.

As more people are coming in, there are, however, fewer people seeking treatment; they are, instead, seeking a safe harbor for their addiction. This goes beyond just drugs and addiction. This situation is not due to Covid, but it has in some way been exacerbated by it. We can blame a lot on the coronavirus: There are more people out of work and more people out on the street.

So, what do we do?

Mayor Walsh believes the situation at “Mass and Cass” is one of the biggest challenges the city faces. I agree with him. We have acted, but we need to do more. We have a dedicated “Mass and Cass” working group that has taken substantive steps to provide mobile bathrooms and cleanup crews around the area. We need to implement a command center to respond more quickly and efficiently to the needs and concerns of the people on the street and to the people living in the nearby neighborhoods threatened by the sprawl of the problem.

We need a more robust Section 35 program and we need to educate as many people as possible about the availability of these programs and resources. If we utilize civil holds and get courts involved in this process, we can complement the hard-working recovery coaches out there trying to help these people get treatment.

We have approximately 1,000 units of homeless housing in the pipeline, but we cannot just house the people in them. Taking the problem out of our sight and tucking it into subsidized housing will not fix the problem. It will not deliver the help that people need the most.

We need real recovery campuses, like the ones Mayor Walsh has been pushing for on Long Island and at the Shattuck site. Long Island had been used as a home for people who were homeless or battling addiction, but the mayor is meeting resistance at every step in his effort to bring this type of resource back into the fold.

In an environment where Covid-19 is still afflicting the very highest levels of our government, we need actions and legislation that make things better…not worse. Our future depends on it.

Frank Baker represents District 3 on the Boston City Council.