I did a Facebook live cast this morning to complain about the City of Boston’s non-response to Sunday’s viral Dig report on the struggling homeless people in South Station. As many readers have reported back to me, people answering the phones at City Hall claimed that they haven’t heard about this issue, while someone from the MBTA Transit Police, when asked about why officers remove the blankets people use to keep warm, responded, “Do you believe everything you read?”
If I am frustrated, it’s impossible to think how people on the street and those who advocate for them must feel. Their voices are routinely lost in this discussion; they’re essentially called liars, as politicians do whatever is politically expedient for them and bullshit about any later consequences.
During this morning’s social media spiel, a former media relations director for Tito Jackson pointed out that Walsh’s tone on Long Island has switched drastically since the election. I checked the video, and holy crap, it sure does. Here’s what Walsh said in an October 2017 WGBH debate against then-City Councilor and challenger Jackson:
What we used to do is take homeless people off the streets and ship ‘em off to Long Island and not deal with the issue. We’re actually dealing with the issue. Someday there will be a bridge built back to Long Island, but you know what’s not going to go back out there? The homeless people, because we shouldn’t be hiding homeless people. What we should be doing is working to get them a home, so they can live in a home, and put the supports around them. And that’s what my administration has done.
Now here is Walsh in a Boston Globe op-ed from yesterday titled “A new bridge to recovery on Long Island”:
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.
He goes on and on, but here’s the richest part:
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?
All of which echoes what he told the Globe in a recent interview:
The island is special… because it can be viewed as a therapeutic community where you’re out of the chaos of your life. . . . If you’re an alcoholic, you need to get out of that barroom, if you’re a drug addict, you need to get out of that crack house, if you’re a heroin addict, you need to get out of that place where you shoot [up].
It would be one thing if the mayor was a bit apologetic for the fallout since the bridge was torn down, but he isn’t. Not in his op-ed at least. Instead, he defends the role that his administration’s played in, among other things, “working 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.”
He could be right that a new bridge to Long Island is one of the answers to this city’s problems. Certainly a lot of advocates and stakeholders think so. But if the scene at Mass and Cass looks like recovery to Walsh, then I guess I’m not surprised that no one in his office thought the tragedy at South Station last week was worth paying attention to.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.