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Healey believes the region is pitching in on Mass. and Cass

Given the historically low level of enthusiasm for sharing responsibility — really?

The tents of a homeless camp lined the sidewalk at Mass. and Cass in Boston in October 2021.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The homeless and those suffering from addiction who gather at Mass. and Cass have long been treated as a Boston problem. But ever since she took office, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has been trying to change that mindset, and last week she called upon state government to help provide housing alternatives in other Massachusetts communities.

How much support can Wu expect from Maura Healey if, as expected, she wins the governor’s office? During a recent interview with the Globe editorial board, Healey said that coming up with a solution to Mass. and Cass is about “getting the right people in the room and getting an action plan right now.” She agreed that more housing is needed to get people through recovery. But when asked if part of the problem is that communities outside Boston are not doing enough, Healey said, “People argue that” but added, “it’s just not true. You do a census, the majority of the people down there, they are still from Boston and Greater Boston. I know that was talked about and trust me, I support programs in regions. No community is immune [from addiction problems]. But I don’t think it’s the case that other cities and towns aren’t doing enough.”


Given the historically low level of enthusiasm for sharing responsibility for the Mass. and Cass situation — really?

As attorney general, Healey showed leadership on the opioid crisis the way a lawyer would: She sued the pharmaceutical companies that produced and marketed the drugs. If elected governor, she will have to show leadership in other ways, such as promoting policies that shift responsibility beyond Boston for addressing the crisis at Mass. and Cass.

Everyone wants the problem to go away. But it has been hard to find a community ready to roll out the welcome mat for the people associated with it. Case in point: Quincy went to court to try to stop Boston from rebuilding a bridge that would reconnect that city to Long Island, where Boston wants to reopen an addiction recovery center. In other words, Quincy sought to stop homeless people and those with addiction issues simply from traveling through it. Last July, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled against that effort. According to a spokesman for Wu, Boston now has the local city permits it needs to build the bridge and is awaiting permits needed from the state, as well as from the US Coast Guard. Moving the bridge plan forward will probably fall to the next state administration.


While the bridge controversy played out in court, Revere and Saugus opposed a proposal to turn a hotel located on their border into transitional housing. And within Boston, there’s dissension about where such housing should be located. At a press conference last week, Wu called upon the state to help create 1,000 new so-called low-threshold housing units outside Boston to address what she described as a “regional crisis.” As the Globe has reported, Boston police estimate that about 200 people congregate in the Mass. and Cass area every day, leading to complaints from local business owners and residents about the discarded needles and open drug use they encounter. Citing road safety concerns, the city last week relocated some people from Southampton Street to Atkinson Street, a block away.


Where do the people congregating in the area come from? When I asked the Healey campaign about her statement that the majority of people at Mass. and Cass are from Boston, a spokesperson sent a link to a Boston Herald story that reported on a survey done by the Wu administration in December 2021. Of 143 people occupying tents at the time, the city survey said about 24 percent came from “outside Boston.” In calling for a regional approach, Wu said at last week’s press conference that new people come to the area from across New England as soon as others are moved into programs.

According to the city’s most recent street survey of 153 people, at least 47 percent indicated that their last ZIP code was something other than Boston. City officials believe the number is probably higher based on responses to other questions in the survey, such as where they attended high school.

At her meeting with the editorial board, Healey said that two years ago, she and Baker “got on the phone,” discussed ways to deal with the Mass. and Cass crisis, and were able to get stakeholders in the room to address it. She said she’s committed to doing that again. But will her definition of stakeholders extend beyond Boston? And even within city limits, what specific housing alternatives will she support?

Asked about the proposal to reopen the treatment center on Long Island, Healey said, “Everything should be on the table.”


If she’s the next governor, she should help Boston set the table on Mass. and Cass in a fair and equitable way.

Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @joan_vennochi.