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Two councilors say part of the answer to Mass and Cass might be locking people up for treatment whether they want it or not

City Councilors Erin Murphy and Frank Baker, both of whom have had close relatives deal with drug problems, say one solution to the resurgence of drug problems at Mass and Cass could be to force people into locked treatment facilities.

As was par for the course at yesterday's contentious council meeting, the proposal sparked outrage among other councilors. Still, Council President Ed Flynn assigned the entire issue of Mass and Cass - and the possible use of involuntary commitment orders brought by close relatives of Mass and Cass denizens - to a council committee for a hearing.

Introducing the request for a hearing on the "humanitarian crisis" at Mass and Cass., Murphy (at large) said that despite efforts of the Wu administration and the Boston Public Health Commission, Mass and Cass has returned to its role as a disease-spreading open-air drug market with rampant drug sales, prostitution, rapes and never ending piles of trash, human waste and needles that re-appear as soon as city crews remove them.

"There are rats there," she said. "We have monkeypox, we have Covid, we have pregnant women falling into the street, we have people who are in need of help."

Murphy, who says she regularly drives through the area, said a couple of weekends ago, she stopped to help a woman just lying there. "I had to get out of the car and I had to Narcan a woman who was almost dead on the ground," she said, adding that once firefighters and EMTs arrived and the woman revived, she simply walked away, rebuffing efforts by her and first responders to get treatment. She was younger than my daughter," she said. "It's just heartbreaking."

Murphy, who says she knows the pain of addiction firsthand - her son was in treatment on Long Island the night it was suddenly shut in 2014 - says more needs to be done to protect area residents, business owners and workers, such as the "older Asian women" who have to wend their way through the area to and from their jobs at a Newmarket Square noodle factory.

She pointed to people who go to Mass and Cass in a desperate search to find their loved ones and try to get them out. And that, she said is where "Section 35," the legal shorthand for involuntary commitment, could come in, she said. Perhaps the city could work with families to convince them to go into court and try to have a judge order their loved ones into treatment - and to stay there until they are finished - and that would help reduce the number of substance abusers in the area.

She said she's not saying "we can arrest our way out of this," but said that forcing somebody into treatment can be another option the city needs to try.

"Many times they don't know better," she said of people using drugs. "Sometimes you need someone to step into your life and guide you into a better place."

She concluded, ""We need to set aside our feelings to know that if we save one, if we save ten if we save however many, that we have to do better for the neighbors, for the business owners for us, for the city."

Baker (Dorchester), whose brother Ricky died of a heroin overdose 30 years ago, said the city is now wasting $20 million to $30 million a year putting Mass-and-Cass denizens up at the former Roundhouse Hotel - only to release them back onto the streets of Mass and Cass.

"Nothing changes, nothing changes," he said, and the addicts, back in the middle of a drug den, "don't have a prayer."

Instead, he said the state Department of Public Health should set up a a locked treatment facility at the Nashua Street jail, where families could have their addict relatives committed for serious treatment, as part of an effort that includes more treatment and intervention programs. Last fall, Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins proposed set up part of the South Bay House of Corrections for use for involuntarily committed people with substance abuse issues, but Mayor Wu rejected the idea in favor of expanding housing and other programs at Mass and Cass and in other parts of the city.

"If we don't start doing things different, all our parks are going to be taken over, all our streets are going be taken over," Baker said of addicts. "They're in the parks, they're in the playgrounds, they're using our parks for their toilets."

Although both councilors mentioned "Section 35" several times during their discussion, neither detailed exactly what it is. City Councilor Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, Mission Hill) asked them to clarify.

"Could I ask Councilor Lara why she's asking for that clarification?" Murphy asked, then added Lara could find out by coming to the hearing on the proposal. At the request of Council President Ed Flynn, she then gave a brief answer.

Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune (at large), Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan) and Julia Mejia (at large) voiced strong objection to any expansion of involuntary commitment; Arroyo said he was opposed to the use of involuntary commitment in Boston altogether.

Louijeune, herself a lawyer, acknowledged the technique is allowed under state law, but called it "an extreme reaction" that involves depriving somebody of their civil liberties when they haven't been convicted of a crime, so something that should be used only sparingly, not expanded.

"Just because something is legal does not make it just," she said.

Arroyo, also a lawyer, said that in his time as a public defender, he had several clients overdose after being involuntarily committed and that some of his clients who thought they would be put in medical treatment programs were instead sent to jails.

"Section 35s can operate as a death sentence," he said, referring to it as "forced involuntary detoxification." He said he did agree with Baker that the city needs more mental-health programs and an increase in the number of beds in treatment facilities.

City Councilor Julia Mejia (at large), said that, like Baker, she has lost somebody to addiction and added her niece is currently on the streets dealing with addiction.

"Who am I to say I have any right to force her into any sort of environment she's not ready to go into?" she asked. "There is no justice in the way we're moving in this space if we are imposing our own beliefs on others."

City Council discussion on Section 35 and Mass and Cass:

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Comments

Read the headline and immediately knew it was gonna be Murphy and Baker pushing this carceral bullshit. Just the worst.

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Voting closed 45

Pushing the proposal of involuntarily locking people up for a minute, why haven't we circled-back to the tent issue?

I thought we all agreed tents can never again be allowed on city sidewalks. Last fall, they found multiple women who had been trafficked when they pulled the tents down, along with a man who had been dead for some time. After the reminder last week that tents are again sprouting up down there, why hasn't DPW removed all tents?

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Voting closed 61

There are tents in other parts of the city.

We agree that we don't want it, but that isn't enough. If you actually want to prevent tents on sidewalks then we need to radically change the way new home construction is approved.

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Read the headline and didn't need to read the names... the GO TO JAIL twins earning their police donations.

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Yeah I’m sure the cops are pushing Baker and Murphy pretty hard to be ordered to wade through needles and poop to go lock addicts up. Even happier to deal with individuals go through terrible withdrawals 20 minutes after they take them into custody.

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Voting closed 47

We should not arrest people and force them into treatment for simply being addicted.

However, anyone including crimes, including shoplifting, bike theft or possession of stolen property, or possessing illegal drugs should certainly be arrested for those crimes, and a treatment environment makes a lot of sense in these cases.

Will it work? Maybe or maybe not. It probably depends on the quality of the rehab effort. But the people being stolen from deserve as much or more protection as the addicts do, so we need to use any & all tools available to help them, too.

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Voting closed 55

If you are a danger to yourself or others, then a presiding justice can order you into treatment. It is called Section 23. The law doesn't magically pay for quality treatment, but there is increased funding for that.

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i could be wrong…

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Honestly I think if you congregate and cause trouble at Mass Cass then that is very different than having police knock down your door. I get kind of tired hearing people scream we need to help these people and then scream NOT THAT WAY.

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You have a home, you have rights. You don’t, so you don’t.

Very tiresome to keep hearing housed people repeat the same nonsense since the Middle Ages.

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The little known “you’re homeless so fuck you” exception to the Fourth Amendment.

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It's more about, you are a threat to yourself and the rest of civilized society, so it's time out time.

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Then anyone with a trump sign or blue line flag needs to be rounded up for the good of society?

I mean, where does it stop?

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Don’t change anything, just let the status quo remain, Julia?

Julia is a big fan of telling people what they can’t do. I’ve yet to hear her plan for a solution to the Mass and Cass problem.

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Now includes a tent of two. Walking 3 block the other day, I lost count of the stupid orange caps.

If addicts won’t disperse, they let them sober up for a few days. Maybe they’ll move on from Boston once they realize they can’t hangout shooting up on the streets without consequence.

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Voting closed 44

She's way too busy shopping for fun hats to get bogged down with boring stuff like solutions.

Can't be unpopular if you never suggest tough answers to a single problem in the city.

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Voting closed 57

Good ol’ Republican Frank Baker being a Republican.

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He’s bemoaning wasted money unless he’s the one wasting it on bullshit field houses for a scam charity.

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Voting closed 23

How bout we try love. Lotta hate hear (pun intended). Let’s try love.

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Didn’t work. Fuck off.

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Arroyo, also a lawyer, said that in his time as a public defender, he had several clients overdose after being involuntarily committed and that some of his clients who thought they would be put in medical treatment programs were instead sent to jails.

"Section 35s can operate as a death sentence," he said, referring to it as "forced involuntary detoxification." ...

Addicts that have been clean for a while are at higher risk to OD the next time they pick up. I don't know that science of it but it is true. That is a terrible reason to not get someone in treatment. It does not matter whether the treatment was involuntary or not. The road back is dangerous, but that doesn't mean we should leave these people in hell.

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Voting closed 47

1. Take anyone that has been convicted of a crime and put them in rehab if they are an addict. Pursue the harshest sentences possible for drug dealers found in that area.
2. Flood the area with outreach workers and provide some type of incentive to the addicts for them to get clean, including a path to housing and a job ( this seems to be a big missing link for homelessness, mental health care and addiction treatment). Get some of the billion dollar businesses that make money in the city to donate some cash.
3. Remove all tents, shopping carts, umbrellas or other personal belongings from the area. Allow each person to keep a backpack full of clothes. Give them personal hygiene products.
4. Have politicians do daily visits to the area until it's cleaned up. Maybe there are some volunteers that wanna also visit the area to help clean it up.
5. Invest in that area to create some economic development, it should be declared an opportunity zone I think they are called.

I rode by on the Fairmount line today and saw someone sleeping in one of the shelters at the NewMarket stop, Boston claims to be a world class city but can't come up with a solution for Mass and Cass after how many years?

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.

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