BOSTON — Boston has built a reputation as a city that welcomes and lends a hand to people struggling with substance abuse issues. People from all over the country come to the city for free treatment and housing.
So when coronavirus forced the closure of addiction and recovery services elsewhere, many of Boston’s programs remained open and people from neighboring towns and states flocked here for help.
“The people that are here now, we don’t know,” said Patricia Rakei, from South Boston. “it’s getting really crowded. You know what I mean? And it’s scary.”
As Boston 25 News has been reporting, residents of the South End neighborhood near the so-called Methadone Mile say quality of life issues worsened in recent months - from homeless encampments to daily reports of human feces on residential properties.
25 Investigates made several visits to the area to understand what was behind the recent complaints. The majority of the people we met on the streets told us they are not from Boston.
“A lot of people that come from Worcester, South Shore, Northshore, Western Mass,” said Steve, a recovering addict who did not share his last name but told us he came from the Cape to kick a opiate addiction. “The housing opportunities that’s available. The recovery services is amazing. The support that you find out here, and yeah, the meetings that you find out here, the support, hands down is the best.”
Boston City councilor-at-large Annissa Essaibi-George has been working to improve the area. When was first elected in 2016 she says 40 percent of the people seeking services were from outside Boston. Now, she says, that number has jumped to 60 percent since the pandemic.
“With the closure of some other sites, some other homeless shelters, some other programs statewide and region wide, Boston has remained open for these services,” Essaibi-George told 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel. “So more and more individuals are coming here to our city into this area.”
Boston Health and Human Services estimates there are as many as 300 people living outside this summer compared to 135 last year.
“We have noticed, for sure, that many of our homeless neighbors are afraid to be in our shelters because of COVID-19. There’s a real fear around contracting the disease,” she added.
The city’s Chief of Health and Human Services calls the current situation “a kind of a perfect storm” with long standing problems associated with the opioid epidemic converging with the latest issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because of the pandemic and the epidemic being together at the same time, it’s been a tough time down there, " said Marty Martinez, Boston’s Chief of Health and Human services. “There’s more people there, there’s more people sick, there’s more people needing help. But there’s no question that the focus is clear and then the intentionality continues.”
Martinez points to a number of positive trends before the pandemic, including a drop in crime and people on the streets. But when COVID hit, he says, priorities shifted to preventing an outbreak in shelters and many of those gains were wiped away.
One of the biggest complaints from area residents to the city is that lawless behavior is tolerated.
During all of our recent visits to Methadone Mile, we witnessed Boston police patrolling or parked at fixed posts.
“The fact that they can use drugs in front of the police. I think it’s kind of crazy because where I’m from, that does not happen,” said Mike, a recovering addict from Springfield who did not offer his last name
25 Investigates checked if the city had any plans to address the latest problems in the South End. We found there are currently no public plans for increased police enforcement around Methadone Mile.
Mayor Marty Walsh has been a consistent advocate for people struggling with addiction and Chief Martinez tells us his focus remains unchanged.
Cox Media Group