Business leaders call for action on ‘Mass and Cass’

For decades, Sue Sullivan has been working in the Newmarket section of Boston and has been actively involved with the difficult issues surrounding the so-called “Mass and Cass” area - the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. Sullivan, who is executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, says problems in the area are the worst she has seen.

“I have been down here for 30 years and I have never seen the kind of violence and vandalism and all that has taken place in the last couple of months. It’s unprecedented,” Sullivan said. “We are a powder keg down here waiting to explode if something doesn’t change.”

Sullivan says her members have been complaining about thefts, stabbings and what she says is a sense of lawlessness in the neighborhood. Boston Police say the numbers back that up. From March 2 to April 5, police say, sixteen stabbings, one shooting, and two homicides were recorded in the area.

Because of the violence, the city has temporarily closed what was called a “comfort station” outside the Southampton Street Shelter. The facility was established during the pandemic so people using services and programs in the neighborhood would have a place to wash up, use a bathroom, and get referrals to treatment.

A spokesperson for acting Mayor Kim Janey says the city is “currently reassessing operations” at the shuttered station and “examining ways to implement additional safety measures.”

Mass and Cass is home to several social service agencies, homeless shelters, and addiction treatment programs. Sullivan, who is on the city’s Mass/Cass 2.0 Task Force, acknowledges there have been what she calls “incremental improvements” since former Mayor Marty Walsh developed plans to address some of the issues in the neighborhood. But she’s worried that as the weather gets warmer, more people will be drawn to the area, which may lead to more complaints.

The Newmarket Business Association is meeting with the city and Janey, but the group is also calling on prosecutors, the courts, and the city of Quincy to help.

“I just think everyone should be on the same page and help disrupt the dynamic here to get drug dealers and violent offenders off the streets and get back to real goals of helping people out of addiction and homelessness,” Sullivan said. “We are calling out [Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins] to help us in this fight instead of tying the hands of law enforcement trying to get dealers off the street.”

Rollins did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Quincy officials have been fighting Boston’s attempt to rebuild the bridge to Long Island, which was home to some addiction treatment programs. Boston closed the decrepit old span in 2014, saying it was unsafe. Many of the services that were available on the island are offered in the Mass and Cass area.

In 2018, Walsh outlined plans to rebuild the bridge and create a recovery campus on Long Island. Although the island is in Boston Harbor, vehicles can only reach it by a bridge through Quincy.

“We are calling out the city of Quincy to stop playing politics with people’s lives with frivolous lawsuits,” Sullivan said.

But Quincy officials say Boston can doesn’t need to build a new bridge and can access the island via water transport.

“The fact remains that the three-year-old proposal for a new bridge is structurally deficient, environmentally unsound, and even under Boston’s best-case scenario would be years away — regardless of the legitimate concerns raised by Quincy and other stakeholders,” Christopher Walker, chief of staff for Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch wrote to WBUR in an emailed statement. “The issues described by the Newmarket Business Association exist today, and they should be addressed today, not maybe someday years down the road.”

This story was first published by WBUR 90.9FM. The Reporter and WBUR share content through a media partnership.

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