Disputes Erupt Over How to Help Homeless on Boston’s ‘Methadone Mile’

By Learner Liu
Learner Liu
Learner Liu
October 2, 2021 Updated: October 2, 2021

Messy tents line the streets. Bottles, plastic bags, and all kinds of trash fly in the breeze. People with shabby clothes wander and sit. It is Boston’s “Methadone Mile,” an area that is only a few miles away from the city’s downtown and Financial District.

The epicenter of Boston’s opioid crisis and homelessness earned its nickname due to the concentration of service providers, who usually incorporate methadone into treatments of drug addiction. For years, the area has attracted a large number of homeless and addicted people, especially after the closure of Boston’s Long Island treatment facility in 2014.

Shelter and service shutdowns caused by the pandemic have been deteriorating the situation around Methadone Mile, which was also nicknamed “Mass and Cass” because it is close to the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Blvd.

The Greater Boston Food Bank is located right next to the “tent city.” Carol Tienken, the food bank’s chief operating officer, recently told NBC that the number of tents in the area has grown from 100 to 200 in a matter of weeks.

Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of the nonprofit, told Boston.com that they have invested $500,000 on security cameras, fences, and gates, and another $500,000 in hiring security guards. Otherwise, the funding could have been used to feed tens of thousands of people.

Epoch Times Photo
Tents line along Southampton Street in Boston’s South End. (Learner Liu/The Epoch Times)

Controversial Plan to Rent Hotel Rooms for the Homeless

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) recently proposed to house some of the homeless people from Methadone Mile in a Quality Inn Hotel in Revere, which drew strong opposition from Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo.

In a letter to Boston acting mayor Kim Janey and Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, Arrigo criticized BPHC’s miscommunication and disorganization. He said that the Revere’s Substance Use Disorder and Homelessness Initiatives office got a voicemail from a recovery coach with Eliot Community Human Services on Aug. 30, announcing that the Quality Inn would become a homeless transitional center with over 150 beds. After the message, Arrigo has also been told that the number of beds would be 156, 30, 60, and 160, but he did not receive anything in writing.

“Consider the impact of an emergency at the Quality Inn without the full preparedness of Revere’s first responders. Not only would the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors be at stake, but also the viability of the much larger reform movement,” Arrigo said.

Janey responded to the letter with a sharply worded statement. She said that staff from the Boston Public Health Commission and Eliot Community Human Services have met with Mayor Arrigo and his team in the last three weeks to review plans and follow up on requests.

“Standing against this proposal means standing against 30 people having a place to call home. It means denying 30 people the health care they deserve at the time they need it most. Municipal leaders who say that we need to do this work as a region but who fail to take responsibility in their own city or town may be making a good sound bite. But, it does not solve the problem,” Janey said.

Suffolk County Sheriff’s Idea of Repurposing a Jail

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, whose office building is on the street next to Methadone Mile, suggested forcibly relocating those street campers to a building on his South Bay correctional campus, which was once used to incarcerate illegal immigrants but was now vacant.

Facing criticisms from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and others, Tompkins said his proposal would be a “last resort” as winter approaches and city-led efforts were useless.

“Let’s find a way to get people off the street and get them into housing where they would have shelter, food, other medication that they need, showers, and the like,” Tompkins said in a WBUR program.

A supporter of the Democratic sheriff was Jim Lyons, the chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party. “We cannot continue to allow these people, unfortunately, on the street, where they are never going to get help. They need help. And our job is to get it to them,” Lyons said.

Epoch Times Photo
The tent city is close to the Suffolk County House of Correction. (Learner Liu/The Epoch Times)

A Temporary Solution

The Newmarket Business Association submitted a plan to the City of Boston on Sept. 25 for the establishment of a Business Improvement District (BID) covering parts of Dorchester, Roxbury, and South End. According to the Boston Business Journal, the BID proposal included mandatory fees from property owners in the area that would be used to run an all-day shuttle, and hire a security force and a street cleaning crew.

In an email to The Epoch Times, Catherine Drennan Lynn from the Greater Boston Food Bank said her organization has endorsed the BID project as a long-term solution. But they were also anxious to see immediate actions taken outside their 70 South Bay Avenue facility.

“Our request of the Boston Mayor is to take two immediate steps to create a clear and safe passage to our building and containment of the tent encampment around our building so that we can continue our operation and mission to end hunger here in Eastern Massachusetts,” Lynn said.

Learner Liu