Mayor Michelle Wu says conditions at Mass. and Cass have reached a “new level of public safety alarm” and plans “‘to take a major step’ to address safety threats in the neighborhood” but has not yet elaborated (“Wu sounds alarm on Mass. Cass,” Page A1, Aug. 3). Meanwhile, public officials have called for increased law enforcement intervention and a warrant sweep, saying “it requires a public health and safety response” (”Criminals city’s focus for Mass. and Cass,” Page A1, Aug. 4).
Increased criminalization of people with substance use disorders increases risk of overdose, disrupts treatment plans and services, and hinders housing opportunities. Instead, resources should be devoted to transitional and permanent housing options and harm reduction and treatment programs. Tania Del Rio, director of the Mass. and Cass Response Team, noted the success of this approach, saying, “nearly half the people who were originally living at Mass. and Cass when Wu came to office have moved through transitional housing to permanent housing,” ultimately reducing the number of tenants at Mass. and Cass. Wu also notes the success of the services offered in the area as a reason why people stay close by.
It is not the time to diverge from methods with proven success. We need commitment to evidence-based public health approaches that center community treatment and housing.
The writer is is a legal fellow for the Action Lab at Northeastern University School of Law and a member of the Massachusetts Rights Coalition for Health.