A sentence to jail could be a lifesaver
In the article “Mass. and Cass cleanup gets mixed review” (Page A1, Nov. 6), observers expressed concern about the percentage of people from the encampment around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard who have been sent to jail as compared with those ordered into treatment facilities. Another way to look at the sentencing pattern is through an appreciation for the fact that the Commonwealth’s houses of correction have been our largest treatment centers for many years.
Sheriffs from counties such as Suffolk, Middlesex, Hampshire, Hampden, and Worcester, to name some examples, operate sophisticated, comprehensive drug treatment programs. New state mandates on medically assisted treatment have reinforced this role played by sheriffs. The women and men of Mass. and Cass experiencing homelessness and dealing with addiction live lives of not-so-quiet desperation, in a tragic reality of chronic disease and dramatically foreshortened life expectancy. A sentence to a county house of correction in Massachusetts could be a lifesaver.
The writer is the retired director of strategic planning for the Boston Police Department.
She recalls the recovery that worked for her in 1992
In these pages, letter writer Laura Logue Rood, a registered nurse, recently recommended that used, underused, and converted ruins of state mental hospitals would be a more practical venue for treatment for addiction and alcoholism.
In 1992 this idea took root at the Tewksbury State Hospital, when I was fortunate to be accepted into a recovery program there.
The campus was ideal. There were dormitories and a cafeteria on-site and nightly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The campus was a long way from the drug scene in the city, and there was a medical staff in place to treat those with mental illness.
It would be great to build a new bridge to Long Island, but in the near term these accessible facilities could provide support for people seeking recovery. Part of the efficacy of this plan is that the basic structures are still in place. Like all centers of meaningful recovery, people could leave the program at will.
It takes work to succeed in recovery. Being locked up in detox simply doesn’t work.
Solutions are at our disposal — we just don’t fund them
The outrage over the situation at Melnea Cass and Massachusetts Avenue has provoked both public and political responses to push addiction and mental illness back out of sight and out of mind.
This encampment is simply a symptom of a longstanding, neglected problem of public health that will arise again somewhere else, unless we begin to treat addiction, mental illness, and homelessness as real problems for which there are practical, indeed ongoing, solutions.
Imagine if some of the $5 billion in federal COVID-relief funding were spent on creating real treatment, by supporting current programs that are chronically underfunded and developing integrated care that requires longer-term treatment than is currently possible by Medicaid and Medicare.
Perhaps Mayor-elect Michelle Wu will find the courage to lead a real change in the approach to problems of addiction, mental health, and homelessness.
Dr. Marshall Forstein
The writer is a psychiatrist who worked in the public sector for 37 years and previously served as vice chair and training director at Cambridge Health Alliance and was a member of the teaching faculty at Harvard Medical School.
We’re sweeping away lives instead of ministering to them
Re “City forges on with clearing Mass. and Cass area: But some homeless say they have nowhere to go” (Metro, Nov. 9): Thank you for your account of what the clearing of their tents and belongings is causing in the lives of homeless people. Tears came to my eyes as I wondered what that would be like were I in that situation.
Why couldn’t the city’s and state’s public lands be made accessible to people for camping outdoors? Mental health, public health, social service, and other community and faith groups could be invited to collaborate in this effort.
As a founding member of the Committee to End Elder Homelessness (now the nonprofit organization Hearth), I can recall our beginnings seeing elders pushing grocery carts containing all their possessions and sleeping in telephone booths or on church steps. My heart breaks today to see a growing unhoused population living in desperate circumstances. Public spaces can be structured to accommodate them. Hopefully others would join me in the exploration of this endeavor.