Opinion

Opinion | Martin J. Walsh

A new bridge to recovery on Long Island

Lesley Becker/Globe Staff illustration | Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff photo

A PLACE OF NATURAL beauty and serenity, Long Island once played a prominent role in Boston’s recovery landscape. Now it is at the heart of our next step in the fight against the opioid crisis. This year we will launch the process of rebuilding the Long Island Bridge in order to create, on the island, the comprehensive, long-term addiction recovery campus that our city and region have never had before.

A full-service campus will meet the most pressing need we have in the fight against opioids: more treatment beds, more transitional supports and sober housing, and a more seamless “continuum of care” across the journey from detox to a life reclaimed. Too many people are relapsing because a solid next step is not there for them in time. And providers are expending too much of their precious energy on the struggle to help clients find their next placement.

A Long Island campus will increase and balance capacity across each stage of treatment at a scale not possible in a neighborhood setting. It will provide a peaceful place for long-term treatment, especially helpful for those who need time away from old routines and tough situations. It will also act as a clearinghouse for available placements along the continuum, across the region. In short, it will be the hub of Greater Boston’s recovery universe.

Advertisement

The positive impact of a recovery campus will be felt far and wide. It will take those suffering from substance disorders off the streets, not only of Boston but also of Quincy and all our neighboring cities and towns. More important, it will help them return to their families and communities more whole and better equipped to continue rebuilding their lives.

Get Today in Opinion in your inbox:
Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Planning, permitting, and building a new bridge will take time — four years at a minimum. But we are determined. We have funding in our capital budget, we will have $30 million more available from our Parking Meter Fund, and we will work creatively and collaboratively to meet any additional costs. In the meantime, we’ll plan the campus by working closely with the devoted providers, nonprofits, and public agencies that are engaged in the fight against addiction.

This community has worked together tirelessly in the three-plus years since the old Long Island Bridge was condemned.

In addition to building a new shelter and a new permanent housing system for the homeless, we found new locations for every recovery program that was housed on Long Island.

We launched the first-of-its-kind Office of Recovery Services that has made us a national leader in creative and collaborative approaches to prevention, stigma reduction, and treatment access.

Advertisement

We worked continuously with a compassionate neighborhood to make the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass Boulevard a “recovery road,” with more outreach workers, an expanded treatment access program, and an engagement center providing comfort and resources.

But ultimately, as the regional and national opioid crisis worsened, we came to the realization that it wasn’t enough. What was on Long Island before wasn’t enough. The facilities in the South End are not enough. Ferry service to and from the island for a medically fragile population will never be enough, as we saw clearly with the recent storm. Nothing short of re-centering and expanding our entire system of care will do.

This plan is backed by extensive research on the continuum of care and it has the enthusiastic support of the providers and families in the trenches. They know better than anyone the size and shape of these needs.

Yet since announcing it in my inaugural address last week, I’ve been disappointed by negative responses to the idea of building bigger and better recovery services on Long Island. I know politics makes people skeptical. But, to be honest, on the question of addiction, I thought we had got beyond the Not-in-My-Backyard paranoia, the brutal stigma, and the reflexive need to put political point-scoring ahead of real solutions.

Of those who suggest we are seeking to hide the problem out on the island, who among you would welcome a facility this size in your own neighborhood? Who among you has experienced the life-changing relief of building a recovery foundation away from those familiar places and faces that can so easily trigger early relapse?

Advertisement

Of those who suggest an island in Boston Harbor is still too close for comfort, how far away would we have to send the suffering to ease your fear and loathing?

If I sound exasperated, it’s because I don’t want us to lose sight of the goal here.

It’s not about me. It’s not about the politics. It’s about the suffering daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, moms, and dads at the heart of an opioid crisis that’s devastating our communities.

We have a long, long way to go. It’s imperative we don’t get derailed now.

The old Long Island did evolve, in part, out of our society’s tendency to put tough problems out of sight and out of mind. That’s why we’ve brought homeless services into the heart of our city.

The new Long Island will reflect our best values: our belief that every single person is worthy of compassion and dignity and hope. Those suffering from substance use disorders are no less deserving of a valued place in our community and a fully supported path to recovery. That’s what we are committed to providing — on Long Island, for our city, and for our state.

Martin J. Walsh is the mayor of Boston.