‘Methadone Mile’ problems mounting on Boston Common
City faces similar challenge at its signature public park
TODAY’S Globe profiles William “Buddy” Christopher, the longtime Boston City Hall insider tapped by Mayor Marty Walsh to coordinate the city’s response to the problems centered around the area known as Methadone Mile, where the South End and Roxbury converge.
Maybe Boston Common should be added to Christopher’s portfolio.
The city’s signature park, and its front door for visitors from around the world who take up the Freedom Trail that starts there, has become a highly visible version of the scene that plays out two miles away on Mass. Ave. and the adjacent streets near Newmarket Square and Boston Medical Center.
As the Boston Herald has reported this week, discarded syringes and needles on the grass, drug users harassing tourists, homeless people camped out overnight, and pot smoke thick in the air are the sights and scents now overtaking the crown jewel of the city’s Emerald Necklace of parkland. It’s pretty safe to assume this wasn’t what Frederick Law Olmsted had in mind when he designed the chain of city parks to connect to the Common.
She may offend some with her less than sympathetic portrayal of those struggling at society’s margins, but Cashman hits on a problem that has become increasingly evident to anyone regularly walking across the Common this summer.
It’s not a new issue, either. Three years ago this month the city broomed off the Common a group of homeless people who had been camped out for weeks in the area near Park Street Station.
The Herald says the city’s 311 hotline has logged more than 2,000 calls with complaints about the nation’s oldest park.
“Boston Common right on Freedom Trail,” reads one 311 report that Cashman cites. “A group of people doing drugs and drinking and harassing people as they are trying to walk by. It’s awful and is getting worse and worse and nothing is done. Tourists are being yelled at. Disgusting representation of Boston.”
Reflecting the balance many are trying to strike between addressing the disorder and dealing with the underlying problems causing it, advocates and several city leaders told the Herald today they want the problems on the Common addressed, but don’t favor a new version of Operation Clean Sweep, the recent police action that resulted in several dozen arrests in the Newmarket Square area. The sweeps were sharply criticized by those who say they followed the discredited approach of criminalizing addiction and mental health issues.
As state Rep. Liz Miranda said earlier this month on The Codcast, her Roxbury constituents have been crying out for years about the saturation of addiction services around Newmarket Square that disproportionately burden them with the problems that result. At the same time, she’s passionate about the need for people to get the help they need.
But when it comes to balancing quality of life concerns of residents and visitors, and concern for those dealing with addiction and homelessness, no one really seems clear on what that means.