To Mass. and Cass, word of a cleaning, housing, began to spread
Paris Flores, who says he has lived in the Newmarket camp for two years, says he needs help.
“Everyone is praying that this is what they are going to do,” the 35-year-old father of three said on a recent cold morning, stepping out of his tent in Newmarket Square, a busy neighborhood in Newmarket Square. ‘packaging of meat and food where dozens of homeless residents have set up camp as they deal with drug addiction, mental illness or both.
Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan to resume cleaning the dozens of tents still there has raised hope for those who live there, but also doubts and concerns. Past attempts by other city leaders to clean up the area were unsuccessful: encampments only grew and spread to other pockets of the neighborhood, raising public health and safety concerns. regarding what has become an outdoor drug market.
A recent city survey showed that more than 140 people lived in the encampments, all within a quarter of a mile of what is known as Mass. and Cass, the intersection that has become the epicenter of the region’s opioid and homeless epidemic.
In November, shortly after taking office, Wu suspended a city plan launched by his predecessor to tear down the encampments. She also acknowledged that tents are always a thing of the past. This time, however, city officials say they are using a “public health approach” and they will have obtained enough transitional housing by Wednesday to provide people living in the settlements with a safe – albeit temporary – place to stay. This includes so-called low-threshold housing, where people seeking shelter would not be required to be sober.
Officials say the housing units will be offered in tandem with other services, including addiction and mental health counseling, medical monitoring and prescription drug use and, in some cases, acute care. for people in immediate danger of overdose. Wu’s Housing First strategy aims to place people in stable, warm housing and provide them with services as part of a long-term transition to permanent housing.
âThis represents a turning point, where we went person-to-person and talked about their needs,â said Dr Monica Bharel, Wu’s public health adviser who is overseeing the effort. “The approach we take, the reason it is public health focused, is that we have reached out to each individual, we have looked at their needs in a way that we haven’t … in the past. . “
Already, she says, 60 people have been placed in new housing. For now, they are still there.
For some, like Flores, help from the city may be the answer to their addictions. The Salisbury native uses heroin and fentanyl. He stays in touch with his family but refuses to return home to see his children until he is sober. He says he has tried drug treatment programs before, but relapsed; stable housing is hard to do without, he says. With his own home, perhaps, he speculates, he could be secure enough to find a job.
“I had better do with my time than drugs,” Flores said. “It must be better than that.”
Still, concern and skepticism persist, especially among local business owners who have already seen the city try and fail.
Neighbors in the Mass. and Cass are particularly concerned about the city’s plan to use the former Best Western hotel nearby on Massachusetts Avenue, known as the Roundhouse, for low-threshold housing and as a transitional care center that would connect patients. rehabilitation services. .
The 92-room hotel recently signed a one-year lease with the Boston Medical Center in partnership with the city.
Dr Miriam Komaromy, medical director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, said that over the next few weeks, up to 60 residents of the settlements move into the hotel. There is a nurse on site, as well as housing and private security specialists. BMC is also considering opening a clinic in the hotel’s basement to provide health care and drug treatment services.
Dr Komaromy said BMC does not allow drug use in the hotel. âIf people are using, we will work with them and ask them to stop and take treatment,â she said.
Still, she acknowledged that staff cannot control what people do in the privacy of their own rooms. “We will observe behavior and we will not tolerate substance use in public spaces,” she added.
Those who work nearby say that using the hotel does not solve the outdoor drug trafficking and predatory crimes that are plaguing the area. They warn that such a situation could mean that those seeking treatment will never get the help they need – they will simply walk out of the hotel doors, reverting to their old behavior.
“It will be a revolving door,” said Bill Lim, owner of the Sunoco gas station next to the Roundhouse, which has had to lock its doors in recent years to prevent people from using drugs inside or committing other crimes.
Sue Sullivan, head of the Newmarket Business Association, said she remained hopeful, noting the concerted efforts of local health authorities to make housing available and encourage residents to take advantage of it.
“I just hope people go, that’s really the problem, âsaid Sullivan, whose organization hired people – some who lived in the settlements – to help clean up the area.
Civil rights and health-care advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, have their own concerns about the city’s past efforts to “sweep” the area, what they called a failed approach. law enforcement that criminalized drug use regardless of individuals. housing and health care needs.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU in Massachusetts, said advocates applaud Wu’s efforts to provide housing. But she is concerned that all residents may not have been connected to appropriate options before Wednesday’s deadline. She called on the authorities to postpone the breaking of the tent, “so that the public health vision that the city seeks to implement can be realized.”
One morning late last week, as news of an upcoming storm swirled around, several people could be seen moving from tent to tent, sealing their doors with tarps for added protection from the storms. severe weather. One of the signs was marked with a sign: âKnock first – don’t just openâ. Police cars circled the area as social workers interacted with passers-by. A man who was apparently under the influence of drugs stood in a corner screaming and undressing.
As the snowstorm eased on Friday afternoon, public health officials returned to the area, carrying out welfare checks on people in the snow-capped tents. They shoveled the tent entrances and brought hot chocolate and soup, while encouraging people to seek safer accommodation. Accommodation will come, they said, but in the meantime seek shelter.
Jason Ortiz, 38, was put up in a tent with his girlfriend. It has a heater powered by propane gas, or sometimes hand sanitizer, to keep them warm. He said they would prefer their makeshift shelter to a gathering place like a shelter, which can be overcrowded and intrusive. But, after learning that accommodations with more privacy will be available, Ortiz said he was more willing to move.
“I just want to move in, you know? He said, glancing outside his door.
Laura, 44, said she was wondering about her future. She said she has been living on the streets since the summer, after being released from prison; she refused to elaborated, but added, âI’ve never been homeless before. “
Laura, who requested that her last name not be used for privacy reasons, said she recently met a social worker outside her tent, who told her about the accommodation. The social worker gave her clean syringes for her active addiction to opioids. But the social worker never returned. Laura said she stayed outside her tent in the rain. Three candles were lit inside, waiting for him, the only way to keep the tent warm.
âWe didn’t tell everyone where they were going,â she said.