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  • Moxie Thompson

The Arduous Trial of the Methadone Mile

The opioid crisis in the U.S. has been going on for decades, showing no signs of letting up. Unfortunately, Boston is not immune to the harrowing effects of such an endemic. The Methadone Mile, located at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston, is home to the largest concentration of drug abuse in the city.

Approximately 150 tents line the streets of the colloquially-named Mass. and Cass, a place where many people suffering from addiction, homelessness, and mental illness live, says NBC Boston. However, Kim Janey, as acting mayor of Boston, began the push for the tents to be removed in an effort to clean up the community and increase safety of the area.

Photo Courtesy: Jim Michaud/Boston Herald

As part of her executive order signed in mid-October, former Mayor Janey stated, “…existing laws, coupled with the public health emergency, dictate that tents and temporary shelters will no longer be allowed on the public ways in the city of Boston.”

Some timelines have been set, including Monday October 25 and Monday November 1st, in efforts to allow people to move out at their own pace. According to NBC Boston, members of the Boston Public Health Commission Homeless Services have been tasked with encouraging people to leave, supplying bins to help with the move out. Janey pushed for this plan to be carried out as quickly as possible. Still, however, plenty of tents remain.

According to WGBH, to persuade people to leave, each person was offered a bed at a homeless shelter in the area, access to rehabilitation services, and a 27 gallon container where they could keep their items for up to 90 days. Despite these incentives, many people still don’t want to leave.

One inhabitant called José stated, “I don’t want to stay here, but now I have no place to go.” As an ex convict, Jose understands the toll jail time can have on a person. “I don’t want to go back to jail, and shelters are jail,” José told WGBH. “People working there don’t know how to treat addicts, and people here don’t treat us like human beings. Treat me like an animal, I’ll do what an animal does.”

He is not the only community member that feels this way. Many have been skeptical of leaving, not sure where to go, and unwilling to move to an open bed in shelter facilities nearby, says WGBH. While police and social service workers have been lenient with efforts thus far, Mayor Janey has made it clear, “individuals who refuse to move tents on public property may be considered disorderly and subject to enforcement of existing laws.” In other words, they could be arrested.

The area has already been a hotspot for crime and decay. Three men were arrested in May after being caught dealing hard drugs in the community. Thirty six indictments have been held against the men, as well as numerous charges against others, for “profiting from pain” of those afflicted by addiction in the Methadone Mile. Parts of the community were shut down due to five stabbings occurring between January and May and damage to businesses in the area, says BU’s Daily Free Press. Due to this danger, Mayor Janey made it her goal in her last few weeks of power to shut down the area.

Unfortunately, many believe it is not that simple. Linda Sprague Martinez, a social welfare policy expert at Boston University’s School of Social Work, thinks the move-out process needs to be slowed to allow time for people being removed to find support and a safe place to live, according to NBC Boston.

On November 5, on behalf of three inhabitants of the Methadone Mile, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the City of Boston and former Mayor Janey for their forced removal of citizens of the area.

Carol Rose, executive director of Massachusetts’ ACLU said in a statement, “We can’t sweep or arrest our way out of the intersecting crises at Mass. and Cass… This plan is harmful and unconstitutional because it forces people to disperse with no safe place to sleep, while disconnecting them from the medical care they are able to receive at Mass. and Cass. Indeed, it’s inconsistent with City assurances, public safety, and the law.”

On November 10, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Frank Gaziano sent the ACLU vs Boston lawsuit to the Superior Court for expedited review, says the ACLU Massachuesetts. Janey, on behalf of the city, said she would comply with courts.

According to NBC Boston, she said, “We are not asking anyone to remove their property, their belongings or to move off the streets without first identifying a place for them to go that is appropriate... We are working hard to match the individual needs… of the people who are living on the streets, living on tents, with the appropriate treatment and shelter options available.”

Some officials have argued that the effort is too rushed and lacking in individual needs-based consideration. Some inhabitants of the area have been ordered to leave without being informed as to where they can go or what they can do. Tina Lunn, one of the people living in the tent encampments, got an eviction notice on Friday morning warning about a Monday move-out, says NBC Boston.

“They just left a notice and told us to get out. I think it's just despicable that they're not helping us more than they are," said Lunn.

There are still about 150 tents that need to be removed, but many people have already been moved to transitional housing, shelters, or returned to permanent homes.

With Mayor Janey leaving office, Mass. and Cass has been left to the new mayor, Michelle Wu. Wu's stance is that the immediate issue should be providing those who need it with addiction and mental health treatment. She also believes in transparency of money spent, overdoses, and policing in the area. She is advocating for more money from the legislature for detox beds, community health centers, and supportive housing in the long-term, since many in recovery will need a solid home.

In a statement with WCVB, Wu stated, “​​This needs to be immediate. We are seeing what's already a life and death situation will become even more dire as temperatures drop.”

As the weather becomes more cold and unforgiving, the old and new mayors face a fight against the clock to clean up the Methadone Mile while ensuring the safety of all those who live there.


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