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Wu makes plea for state help on Mass and Cass

Calls on state to build 1,000 units outside of Boston

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Wu makes plea for state help on Mass and Cass
Mayor Michelle Wu addresses reporters gathered at 1010 Massachusetts Avenue. PHOTO: JEREMIAH ROBINSON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Mayor Michelle Wu says she’s asking the state to facilitate the construction of 1,000 units of housing outside of Boston for people experiencing homelessness and addiction.

Wu’s announcement came as she discussed with reporters the city’s response to the crisis in the Mass and Cass area, an area where the combination of treatment services for people with addiction and the availability of drugs has drawn people from across Massachusetts and other New England states.

Wu said the city’s response so far, creating 192 “low-threshold” housing units for people suffering from addiction, has helped many of them secure treatment services and permanent housing both in and outside of Boston. But, she said, the city’s efforts are not enough.

“We know that this works for stabilizing individuals, but at the city level, with the funding that we have, with the resources that we as a municipality have, we cannot do it alone,” she told reporters gathered at 1010 Massachusetts Avenue. “And so our call, our ask, and the results of what we have learned throughout all of these 10 months — how to do this, how to do it right — is that we need partnership from the state.”

Backed by city officials, Mayor Michelle Wu addresses reporters on the city’s response to the situation at Mass and Cass. PHOTO: JEREMIAH ROBINSON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

A spokeswoman from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services did not respond directly to questions about whether the state would invest in housing units outside of Boston, as Wu requested, and instead sent a statement to the Banner.

“The Baker-Polito Administration works closely with the City of Boston to identify strategies for the challenges faced along the Massachusetts Avenue corridor, and to support the City’s response to the issues at Mass & Cass, and has invested nearly $40 million in these efforts,” the spokeswoman said in the statement. “The Executive Office of Health and Human Services and its Departments of Public Health and Mental Health are actively engaged with the City to implement strategies and supports for individuals in the area, and have funded services directly with private, non-profit providers or through the City.”

The state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance this year released a request for proposals for housing for people experiencing homelessness and addiction and services for people with addiction at the state-owned Shattuck Hospital in Franklin Park. DCAMM received one response, from a group helmed by nonprofits including Boston Medical Center, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation and The Community Builders, calling for the development of 400 units of housing at the Shattuck.

That proposal, which has not yet been made public, sparked opposition after it was leaked to Roxbury residents, many of whom note that the city has located the bulk of its temporary housing units for homeless people and people struggling with addiction in Roxbury, with just one site in the South End.

Wu said the city has so far created 192 units of medically supported temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness and addiction. She told reporters that 65 people have so far passed through those units and accessed permanent housing outside the city.

But the demand for such units remains high.

“The reality is that as we’ve been able to serve these hundreds of residents who have gone through the housing and treatment pipeline with us, hundreds more residents have arrived from other cities, and other states, even,” Wu said.

While the Wu administration has not identified any sites outside of Roxbury, the Pine Street Inn has one site in the construction pipeline on Washington Street in the Egleston Square area. Another site the nonprofit identified on Morrissey Boulevard has drawn fierce opposition from Dorchester elected officials and residents.

In the Newmarket area that has long been the center of addiction services in the city, Wu and others said the crisis is abating.

Last year, city officials removed 43 tons of materials from the area in a sweep aimed at clearing the streets and sidewalks of wood pallets, propane tanks, tents and makeshift shelters in which people were living. A more recent sweep, aimed at pushing people from congregating on Southampton Street, cleared just 200 pounds of materials.

During the press conference, Wu said the state has been instrumental in helping the city respond to the housing needs of people who were encamped in the Mass and Cass area.

“We would not have been able to stand up 192 units in a matter of weeks and months without their direct daily communication with us,” she said.

While state officials have provided $40 million in assistance to the city for construction of housing units inside the city, Wu called on the state to provide the same level of assistance outside of Boston.

“We need to see the same level of collaboration and investment in cities all across our Commonwealth as well, because this is not a challenge that is unique to Boston,” she said.

housing, low-threshold housing, Mass and Cass, Mayor Michelle Wu