Mayor Martin J. Walsh today released a strategic plan aimed at addressing the urgent public health crisis in Newmarket Square and surrounding areas, where a high number of individuals who have substance use disorder seek health care and shelter. The plan represents a short-term, action-oriented strategy that will guide the City’s work on public health, public safety and quality of life issues that impact individuals who are struggling, and their surrounding communities. The plan includes hiring new staff members designated to work in the area, funding for new programs and initiatives, improved coordination between existing services, and a renewed focus on the services and efforts being employed by city officials to address this national crisis.
The strategy is captured in the Melnea Cass/Mass Ave. 2.0 plan, which presents key goals and measurable activities, as well as goals related to coordination and alignment of services. The activities laid out in this plan will be evaluated at six-month intervals to determine the City’s progress towards its goals.
“What we have on our hands is an opioid epidemic of historic proportions that is taking hold of too many lives, and tearing apart families in every city and town in our nation,” said Mayor Walsh. “As a society, we will never turn our backs on people who are at the most vulnerable time in their life. Through this plan, we are focusing on the area of Melnea Cass/Mass Ave to make the needed improvements for those who are struggling: those with a substance use disorder, and the residents impacted by this epidemic throughout Boston’s neighborhoods. There is not one perfect solution to dealing with this crisis, but we are committed to doing everything we can. Our primary focus will always be on the safety and wellbeing of all people in the City of Boston, and I’m asking for us all to work together hand in hand as a community to confront this national crisis.”
The plan focuses on four priority areas that have been identified through public outreach:
1. Connecting those struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) with resources and a pathway to recovery, including:
- Increase overdose prevention trainings to treatment providers, community groups, businesses and law enforcement agencies, and adding naloxone kits to public buildings in the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area;
- Reduce the spread of infectious disease by increasing clean syringe distribution and disposal; providing monthly testing events at the Engagement Center, 112 Southampton and Woods Mullen shelters; and providing recovery education sessions and information to shelter guests;
- Increase recovery outreach efforts and treatment availability by expanding the Street Outreach Team by eight team members and consequently the number of people we engage in services;
- Reduce the unsheltered homeless population by using street outreach and shelter utilization data to create a targeted list of 40-60 unsheltered persons to be prioritized for assessment, referral and placement; and offer diversion and triage to help people utilizing emergency shelter resolve housing instability quickly;
- Expand capacity to serve individuals in need of services by working with the faith community to expand low-threshold day programs that provide welcoming environments, address basic needs and create referral opportunities; working with the state to increase regional winter overflow beds; and working with nonprofit partner agencies to explore expansion of low-barrier night time drop in programs.
2. Ensuring public safety for all residents by reducing criminal activity, including:
- Reduce criminal activity through strategic, data-driven deployment of more police officers and sergeants to fixed posts based on the assessment of hotspots in Worcester Square, Southampton Street & Massachusetts Avenue, and Dudley Station, and increased deployment of the citywide bike unit and officers on foot to surrounding neighborhoods;
- Conduct ongoing training for police officers in de-escalation, overdose response, crisis intervention when working with individuals with substance use disorder;
- Expand diversion options by increasing the number of officers from two to five and adding one sergeant on unit to provide more referrals to treatment, and increasing staffing capacity for recovery response teams at the BEST Team, PAARI, and the number of officers trained in Crisis Intervention Training.
- Add coordinated walking routes with Boston Police and Street Outreach Team to engage more people into care.
3. Focusing on quality of life issues for our residents and businesses, including:
- Reduce discarded syringes, drug paraphernalia and trash in public spaces by increasing options for proper disposal of syringes, including new drop off locations and an incentive program for active users to return syringes; and hiring four new Public Works employees designated to keep the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area safe and clean through additional grounds sweepings, daily street cleanings, power washing, etc.;
- Create and dispatch a Coordinated Response Team who will help with assessing and assisting individuals in encampments, offering triage and referrals to services, and cleaning up any material from encampment sit;
- Enhance beautification efforts in the area to promote positive neighborhood appearance and maintenance by installing a welcome kiosk at the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, installing welcome banners to create a sense of identity, increase street lighting in the area, and create a plain for maintenance, beautification and upkeep of the area;
- Ensure that public spaces are clean, safe and welcoming by deploying resources to conduct cleanings at Clifford Park every day of the week, replacing wood chips at the park with new safety surfacing and executing a redesign of the park.
“The Melnea Cass / Mass Ave. 2.0 Plan is a very encouraging step in addressing one of the most complicated issues our city faces,” said State Representative Jon Santiago. “By providing a comprehensive approach to the public health and quality of life concerns impacting our neighborhoods, we have an opportunity to not only save more lives, but shed stigma and improve conditions for all those residing in the area. I am grateful to Mayor Walsh and Chief Martinez for their commitment and I look forward to our continued partnership.”
4. Improving internal and external coordination and communication of services and ongoing assessment of efforts, including:
- Create a Task Force comprised of 24 members to provide oversight and feedback on the city’s ongoing efforts at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard over the next two years;
- Create new platforms to better track and understand real-time data relating to activity in the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area to gauge progress towards goals.
“Our patients have been disproportionately affected by the complex intersection of poverty, trauma, and addiction, and the mounting impact of these issues on our neighborhood cannot be overstated,” said Jessie Gaeta, Chief Medical Officer at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. “With this evolved plan to enhance and coordinate services, and a strong focus on public health, the City is devoting a great deal of resources aimed at improving the lives of people struggling. We remain devoted partners to the City in this work.”
“It’s clear that the Mayor is prioritizing the Mass and Cass area, with increased coordination between city departments that will allow the city to better respond to residents and business concerns, while still prioritizing public health,” said Desmond Murphy, Vice President of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association. “From reading the plan, it’s clear that the city has heard our concerns, and is responding swiftly to make the area more livable for everyone.”
The City of Boston will expand the capacity of its Street Outreach and Mobile Sharps teams after Mayor Walsh advocated for and secured a $750,000 investment from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The investment will increase the ability of street outreach workers to connect people with treatment services in Newmarket Square and surrounding neighborhoods, and expand the capacity of the Mobile Sharps Team to collect improperly discarded syringes throughout the City.
Mayor Walsh created the Boston’s Street Outreach Team in 2016 to connect people in Newmarket Square experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder with services and overdose prevention supplies (including naloxone). The teams canvas the neighborhood to offer guidance to people in need of recovery and homeless services, and to direct residents to shelter and programs like the Engagement Center. Last year alone, the Street Outreach and Engagement Center teams completed almost 2,000 client referrals to programs and shelters.
Last year, Mayor Walsh provided additional funding for four new outreach positions, doubling the capacity of the team to eight outreach workers. With the State’s investments, the team will now consist of 16 outreach workers, as well as a centralized system for rapid response to address issues in the neighborhood.
The Mobile Sharps Team, most recently expanded through the City’s FY20 budget with new staff, new technology and additional pickup improvements, is a team of currently two team members that pick up improperly discarded syringes throughout the City. With the State’s investment, the Mobile Sharps Team will now have four additional members, further expanding its capacity to six team members. Since its creation in 2015, residents are able to report a loose syringe through the Boston 311 app or phone hotline, dispatching a cleanup crew to the area to properly dispose of the needle.
In the first eight months of 2019, the team received over 62,000 pickup requests through Boston 311. In addition to the Mobile Sharps Team, trainings on the safe collection and disposal of syringes are regularly provided to the Parks Department, Boston Public Schools (BPS) custodians, and the Department of Public Works. There are also 14 needle kiosks throughout the City that allow individuals to safely dispose of used syringes.
The City has taken a comprehensive approach to tackle the opioid epidemic. The City serves people in all stages of the continuum of care, from providing harm reduction services to ensure people can maintain health in various aspects of their lives, to connecting people with beds at treatment programs, to offering outpatient care and long-term peer support.
The City of Boston is planning an innovative and holistic recovery campus on Long Island that will expand essential recovery services for the region, fill gaps in the continuum of care and utilize the natural environment to provide a healing space. The City has contracted with Gensler and Ascension Recovery Services to identify the types of services, resources and treatment options that would be best suited for the island and create a master plan for the recovery campus. The draft design for the Long Island bridge was completed earlier this year.
Continuing these efforts, the City of Boston filed a complaint in Suffolk Superior Court against 13 opioid manufacturers, four distributors, and one local doctor that have contributed to the local opioid epidemic through misleading marketing and reckless dissemination of opioids that has led to the deaths of more than 832 Boston residents since 2014. As part of the litigation, the City is seeking to recover both past and future damages and injunctive relief associated with addressing the opioid epidemic in Boston.