After successfully moving homeless people and drug users away from Atkinson Street, where a South Bay correction officer was attacked last week, city officials acknowledge one result has been to simply push them into surrounding neighborhoods.
At a forum at the South End BPL branch tonight, city Methadone Mile czar William Christopher said the goal now is to get people back to Atkinson Street, so that city outreach workers can get them the treatment and services they might need.
Christopher said two sweeps last week in particular were aimed at removing drug dealers and violent people who were preying on the addicts who had been gathering on Atkinson Street and other part of the Methadone Mile area, and that going forward police would concentrate on keeping those criminals out so that other substance abusers can feel safe enough to return and seek services.
"We don't believe we can arrest our way out of this," Christopher said:
The meeting, sponsored by the South End Forum, had to be moved from a conference room that could hold maybe 50 people to the park next to the library. The session occasionally grew heated. Advocates for the homeless squared off with city and police officials over ongoing sweeps - and sometimes with South End residents. Roxbury residents and parents, meanwhile, expressed anger that it took the attack on a corrections officer to get the sort of city action they had been asking for for several years.
Jay'dha Rackard, an 11-year-old from Roxbury who had been going to the Orchard Gardens School, near what City Councilor Kim Janey called "Ground Zero," had to wipe away tears before talking about how she's transferring this fall to the Davis Leadership Academy, because she could no longer take going to a school where addicts would congregate regularly to shoot up, leaving behind endless numbers of needles, and worse. Her mother, Janina, recalled a special clean-up day the school sponsored - when students went to toss bags of trash in a school dumpster, they found a man overdosing right in the dumpster, and had to be quickly ushered away as community activist Domingos DaRosa started CPR to try to keep him alive until EMTs could get there.
Christopher said that following the Thursday attack and Friday raids, both police and city substance-abuse street workers had stepped up their patrols in areas not just immediately surrounding Methadone Mile but in neighborhoods such as Dorchester, Roxbury and South Boston, where the people pushed out of Atkinson Street have been going. Alleys in particular are being patrolled, to find displaced people and "to get homeless folks to go back to Atkinson Street," he said.
Christopher and Marty Martinez, the city's chief of health and human services added that they are caught in a tough spot, balancing the needs of the homeless and the addicted with the needs of residents to be safe on their streets and in their homes.
"There is no simple answer," Martinez said. "Anyone who tells you there is a simple answer is lying."
Christopher addressed the widely circulated photos from last night showing wheelchairs being put into and crushed by city trash trucks, or, at least, one particular wheelchair, one found outside Boston Medical Center, which he said was a public-health issue all by itself because it was full of feces, urine and blood. If people were ordered out of wheelchairs, which were then crushed, "that should not have happened," Martinez said.
One homeless advocate screamed he was a murderer; South End residents booed.
At one point, one resident yelled "We appreciate what you do!" at D-4 Capt. Steven Sweeney. "No we don't!" somebody else yelled.
A doctor, nurse and residents who work with the homeless and substance abusers said others need to stop vilifying them and that the city should be fighting more aggressively for treatment, for safe-injections sites and for the construction of the proposed Long Island treatment complex - and the bridge to get to it. City officials agreed. Martinez said the city cannot legally proceed with a safe-injection site. He added Gov. Baker strongly opposes the idea; the local US Attorney has vowed to prosecute anybody who sets one up.
"People are sick and they need help," City Councilor Kim Janey said, adding that at the same time, the city can't simply push the problem out from Methadone Mile, that kids have a right to go to schools and parks free of needles. "It's important we do not pit neighborhoods against each other," she added.
One East Concord Street resident said she is sympathetic to problems of homeless people, but at the same time, she shouldn't have to be calling 911 just to get out of her own home. She recounted a recent incident in which two men were sitting on her stoop and "one decided, let me be naked." She called 911, an officer came and shooed the two men away - and then not long after the cop left, the two men, one still naked, returned, she said.
Harrison Avenue landlord Mario Nicosia, though, was having none of the sympathy. Nicosia, handed out lists of Level 3 sex offenders at the Pine Street Inn before the meeting, pointed to the woman attacked on Harrison Avenue on Sunday and said he is tired of picking up human waste outside his buildings. "Some of these people are absolutely nuts," he said, recalling watching one guy "beating the shit out of a metal sign with his fists."