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Boston’s worsening Methadone Mile has task force prioritizing decentralization, bathrooms

The conditions on Boston’s Methadone Mile have worsened amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the city’s task force for the crime-ridden area is hoping to decentralize recovery services, organize the response and deal with the rampant bathroom issues there.



a group of people sitting on a cart: BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 12-SATURDAY: People line the sidewalk at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard September 12, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Connors/Media News Group/Boston Herald)


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BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 12-SATURDAY: People line the sidewalk at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard September 12, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Connors/Media News Group/Boston Herald)

“There’s more people coming in, but there’s fewer people seeking treatment,” said City Councilor Frank Baker, whose Dorchester-South End district includes most of the area in question. “We can blame a lot on COVID. Because of COVID, there are more people out of work — more people out on the street.”

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The area around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard is disparagingly known as “Methadone Mile,” due to the methadone clinics located there, though the city and advocates call it “Mass & Cass” in an effort to be more positive. For years, it’s been home to a great deal of vagrancy and drug use — and residents there say it’s only gotten worse, leading to recent neighborhood protests there over perceived inaction. Every day, crowds gather there, with some openly shooting up.

The area became bad enough last summer that Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled a “Mass & Cass 2.0” plan to help curb the drug abuse — mostly opioids and meth, authorities have said — and violence. To oversee the plan, the mayor created a task force of 25 people, including Baker.

Baker said the task force just this week “talked about human defecation for an hour,” saying that the regular reports of people using buildings’ front steps as toilets.

“It’s a health hazard,” Baker said.

He said the task force is focusing on figuring out how to deal with that, which likely will involve bringing mobile restrooms of some sort there. But the devil remains in the details, with officials needing to figure out how the bathrooms will need to be staffed to make sure people aren’t overdosing inside, for example.

Baker said the task force also is focusing on decentralizing services in the area — and centralizing the city’s response. He said the city needs a “command center” to coordinate between health officials, public works, the police and more as Boston looks to get people out of homeless encampments.

Walsh last year said the city needs spread treatment centers more widely throughout the city, so everyone who needs them doesn’t just end up clustering in what’s now Methadone Mile.

“The reality is if we’re not looking at decentralizing some services out there, Mass and Cass has its hands pretty full,” Baker said.

A recent update from the task force claimed some progress, and also stressed the need for further decentralization.

It added, “The unexpected, serious and ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted virtually all services in the city of Boston. Around the Melnea Cass/Mass Ave. area, shifting focus and resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19 became a priority.”

Walsh, on GBH radio on Friday, took calls from constituents — and several had choice words about what one woman who identified herself as Christine called “Marty’s Mile.”

“It’s just really, really, really turned abysmal,” she said. “Those of us who live or have our businesses here are regularly encountering human waste on our sidewalks, on our front steps, in our parks. This is on top of the needles.”

She added, “it’s not humane for those people and it’s not sustainable for this community.”

The mayor said the pandemic has added to the woes there.

“We also had a lot of services around the commonwealth and city cut in half because of coronavirus,” Walsh said. “So lack of services. This is definitely one of the biggest challenges that we have as a city moving forward … We also have a situation where penal systems in the commonwealth and hospitals will commonwealth, when they discharge people that have no place to go.”

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