We can’t wait for perfect policy — the situation at Mass. and Cass is an emergency
I have a close family member who has a mental illness and substance use disorder, and I see the situation at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard quite differently from your letter writers of Oct. 9 (“Mass. and Cass is a crisis in slow motion, day after day after day,” Readers’ Forum).
I agree that having a mental illness is not a crime and should not be treated as one. Yet those of us caught in the mental health quagmire have been asked to continue to be patient — while the state builds supportive housing, while universities train social workers and clinicians, while outreach workers build trusting relationships with people who are homeless and helpless.
For 15 years, I have waited for “expanded harm reduction services, access to lifesaving medication, supportive housing, and community outreach,” as Drs. Sarah E. Wakeman and Elsie M. Taveras propose (“Addiction should be approached as we would any other health condition”). In vain I have waited for city, state, and federal government to invest in neuroscience research, psychiatric facilities, mental health courts, police reform, and community health centers. How long are those in the tent city at Mass. and Cass and in similar sections of Worcester and Greenfield expected to wait? How long are their parents and loved ones supposed to worry?
Do I like the proposal put forward by Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins? Not as a long-term solution. But his idea is at least a start, and something that can be done now (”As the pain and suffering escalate, all options should be on the table,” Opinion, Oct. 14). And I have to admit that when someone is in a form of custody or in the hospital, they are likely to be safe.
The residents of Massachusetts value civil liberties and freedom of choice, but it is time to acknowledge that people with mental illnesses and addictions do not make rational choices. Sometimes decisions have to be made for them. It is past time for the state to step in and treat the situation as the emergency that it is, providing emergency housing, even if it means short-term involuntary commitment. Meanwhile, we also have to get to work on long-term solutions.
Martha J. Bailey
Putting a human face on an epicenter of misery
We have been needing an article like “Twelve hours at Mass. and Cass” for a long time (Page A1, Oct 10). It puts a human face on people we’ve turned our backs on.
So much of this trouble is the result of the closing of a bridge off the city of Quincy. Why can’t we get past that?
This isn’t just a Boston problem. It’s time for the state government to step up and do the right thing.
Addiction, homelessness are public health issues that must be confronted everywhere
The reality that is obscured by the theme of much of the “Mass. and Cass” coverage is that no one was born, or raised, or schooled at Mass. and Cass. People who are gathered in that area got there from every neighborhood and suburb of Boston and beyond.
Nothing except the location, whether it’s Mass. and Cass or Long Island, is going to change until the neighborhoods, towns, cities, and states in the region accept the fact that addiction and homelessness are genuine public health issues that must be confronted locally, with appropriate resources and a measure of kindness.
Listen to unhoused people, for more than 12 hours
During the beginning of Operation Clean Sweep, in 2019, I was asked by houseless and formerly houseless people to provide pro-bono strategy assistance and organizing help to counter the harmful narratives and actions put forth by elected officials, mainstream media, and many housed people. I worked unpaid, living in unsafe housing until I was displaced at the beginning of the pandemic. I did this with three decades of Boston experience behind me in politics, academia, and nonprofits.
“Twelve hours at Mass and Cass” could encourage further disinvestment in the real concerns of the people there, and it presents us with a narrative once again that falsely implies that those who are most affected don’t have the solutions. Yes, if you are surviving outside, without a safe supply, without the very things that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said should be provided for the unhoused, such as 24-hour restroom facilities with running water, you too would probably be an “unreliable” narrator. Boston’s houseless people deserve what they have been asking for, including low-threshold housing that decouples sobriety from housing; harm reduction services, including safe consumption sites; and voluntary treatment on demand that isn’t limited to abstinence-based treatment.
If the reporter and photographer had stuck around for a year, instead of 12 hours, they would have seen so many assets. The streets can be awful; the people are not. They would have witnessed: builders constructing a physical community, harm reductionists reversing overdoses, workers working (and yes, some of that work is sex work), people making hard decisions and coming up with creative, brilliant solutions, and so much love.
Those wonderful people are unhoused. Regardless of their “last permanent address,” they have a current address, and it is at the center of Boston.
The writer is a longtime strategic consultant to organizations and campaigns who has spoken on issues at the intersection of management, leadership, and social justice.
A prevailing sentiment: Please be homeless somewhere else
I expect most people feel sorry for people who are homeless and may well want to help. But I also expect their attitude can be boiled down to: “It is no crime to be homeless, but please be homeless somewhere else — not here, anyplace else is fine.”
Considering what the Globe has reported about Mass. and Cass, who would want to be anywhere near that horrible situation?
Frederick A. Liberatore