Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Friday the city is working to address the opioid and homeless crisis in the area known as “Mass and Cass,” while acknowledging, “We have to get it better under control.”
“The problem is . . . a big problem,” he said during his appearance on Boston Public Radio’s “Ask the Mayor” segment.
One caller, a South End resident, described human waste being a common sight on sidewalks, the front steps of buildings, and in parks, to say nothing of the proliferation of needles in the neighborhood. She said people are sleeping in parks and that there have been encampments of the homeless on the streets. She added that the area around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, which is sometimes disparagingly called “Methadone Mile,” is now being referred to by some as “Marty’s Mile.”
“It really, really, really turned abysmal,” said the caller.
Walsh replied that Mass and Cass is one of the biggest challenges the city faces, saying that many services that could help the homeless and the addicted have been cut because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He highlighted the city’s opening an office of recovery services under his watch, which he described as a first-in-the-nation initiative.
Last week, Walsh released a progress report on the plan for Mass and Cass. According to his office, the opioid crisis there has intensified amid the pandemic. The city logged 315 “treatment placements” from the area last month.
The state’s hospitals and prisons are discharging people with no place to go, said Walsh, and in some instances, those individuals are being sent to Boston. He said that prisons and jails need to stop doing that. Many people who congregate at Mass and Cass, said the mayor, don’t live in the city and didn’t come from Boston.
He acknowledged that people “are going to the bathroom on the streets” and there is open drug-dealing in the area. Walsh said he has been on calls almost every day this week discussing the problem with his City Hall team.
He said that if people are not willing to seek help, there are not a lot of options, calling the current situation at Mass and Cass “a perfect storm.”
“The last thing we want to do is be arresting everyone out on the street. These folks have . . . an illness, and we have to treat them where they’re at. That might not be what people want to hear,” said Walsh.
Another South End caller to the radio program on GBH said he found Walsh’s answers regarding Mass and Cass to be “woefully inadequate” and questioned the mayor about the Long Island bridge reconstruction. Walsh closed the old bridge to Long Island in 2014 because of its deteriorating condition, but has pledged to rebuild it and reconnect the mainland to the island. It had been used as a home for people who were homeless or battling addiction and he wants it to be that again. He has promised a new rehabilitation campus for the island.
On Friday, Walsh mentioned that the city of Quincy has tried to block the bridge project every step of the way. Long Island is within Boston’s borders, but traffic goes through Quincy’s Squantum neighborhood in order to reach the bridge site. Quincy and Boston have locked horns in a protracted legal battle over the bridge proposal.
Walsh said the situation at Mass and Cass was not created by the closure of the bridge.
“It was created because we have an opioid crisis. The drug companies preyed on people, and that’s why we have a crisis,” he said. “And we’ve had a crisis quite honestly for a long time. And pointing fingers at me, which is fine, is not the solution because I didn’t create this. But what I am trying to do is find a solution.”
During a portion of his radio appearance, Walsh got into a somewhat testy exchange with host Jim Braude, who pressed the mayor on whether he plans to seek a third term in next year’s city election. The exchange occurred days after Walsh broke the news of City Councilor Michelle Wu’s plans to run for mayor when he was contacted by The Boston Globe. Walsh has yet to make a formal announcement regarding whether he will run for another term.
On Friday, Walsh said he is focused on dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, preparing for the upcoming school year in the city, and helping flip the White House. He said he has no plans to give up on the city, where he has “a lot more to do.”
“I’m focusing on my job,” he said.