A data dashboard on the city’s website tells in raw numbers a part of the human tragedy that still exists at Mass and Cass — the people living on the street at any given moment, the syringes collected, the EMS incidents (109 in May), the police-involved incidents (727 in May).
The tents come and go, but the misery lingers on. The city’s efforts have netted some successes — nearly 4,000 individuals have received some kind of treatment for substance use disorder since the Wu administration first tackled the encampment in January 2022. Not surprisingly the numbers seeking treatment and housing spiked in cold weather months but slipped to a mere handful in June.
Several converted hotels offer shelter, treatment, and supportive services for people living at Mass and Cass. Still, the problem of working with those who are often dealing with drug-related and mental health issues — a problem not confined to Boston — remains an enormous challenge.
But an ambitious new proposal to make use of the 13-acre Shattuck Hospital campus at Franklin Park for housing, mental health care, and addiction services holds the promise of a more permanent solution — and one not dependent on an expensive, long-term proposal to build a bridge to a Boston Harbor Island.
Earlier this month a coalition of community-based organizations led by Boston Medical Center won provisional designation from the Healey administration for the right to redevelop the Shattuck site into what their proposal calls “a comprehensive behavioral health and housing community.”
It would include 326 treatment beds, 120 emergency housing units (similar to the micro-units already on site), up to 200 units of supportive housing for individuals to be managed by the Pine Street Inn, and up to 205 units designated for families and managed by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation.
The design, according to the plan, would actually increase by 30 percent the amount of green space on the Morton Street site, now dominated by aging buildings and an abundance of parking lots. Some 7 acres would be devoted to green space, include new walkways and bike paths. Those amenities would create a more therapeutic environment. The plan also aims to address the concerns of critics who simply want to see the property become all green space once the existing public health hospital is demolished and its functions transferred to a newly rehabbed site in the South End.
But none of this will be easy — or inexpensive. The development currently comes with a $543 million price tag and would be dependent on some $207 million in state funding — the latter not yet committed.
This is just the start of a process that will need to build community support — definitely not a given in a world where those suffering from addiction and mental health issues have little power and even less public sympathy. But working in their favor is the virtual dream team of organizations involved in addition to BMC and Pine Street, including Boston Health Care for the Homeless, Bay Cove Human Services, and Victory Programs.
The proposal will need final approval from the state. And a spokesman for Mayor Michelle Wu said the mayor “looks forward to reviewing the proposal alongside our state partners,” but added, “We continue to work towards the final pieces of permitting on Long Island.”
The mayor and her predecessor have both proposed rehabbing treatment facilities on Long Island, closed since 2014 when the bridge leading to the harbor island through the Squantum section of Quincy was deemed unsafe and demolished. But the cost of a new bridge alone was estimated at $80 million — and that was during the Walsh administration. A 2022 study put the cost of rehabbing the buildings at some $540 million.
Those numbers certainly make the proposal by BMC and its partners look like a bargain by comparison. Their plan would also create facilities that don’t isolate those being treated or require spending money on a bridge instead of on a better therapeutic environment. And there’s something to be said for its practicality: The humanitarian crisis is dire enough that the faster the government’s responses can materialize, the better.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.