Acting Mayor Kim Janey said Wednesday the city needs to “revamp” the task force that was created to track ongoing efforts to address the overlapping crises of substance use, homelessness, and mental health in the area known as “Mass. and Cass.”
The task force, made up of about 24 residents, city officials, local business leaders, and representatives from nonprofit service providers, was formed by former Mayor Marty Walsh in late 2019 as part of his administration’s efforts to address the worsening conditions in the streets surrounding Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
Originally tasked with meeting monthly, concerns have been raised this year about the direction of the group.
A member of the task force, Mike Nelson, said in April that the work was largely being driven by members Steve Fox, from the South End Forum neighborhood group, and Sue Sullivan, from the Newmarket Business Association. Nelson, the Worcester Square Neighborhood Association’s liaison on the task force, said without those two members driving the agenda, efforts would be stalled, the Boston Sun reported.
“There have been advances at Mass/Cass, but I don’t think they’re the result of a Task Force coming up with great ideas and trying new things,” Nelson said. “I think what you’re seeing is community groups and other groups that are rock stars.”
More recently, other members have said the task force is “useless” and some are planning to revive a working group focused on Mass. and Cass, the Boston Herald reports.
The last two meetings of the task force have been canceled, with no reason given, according to one of its members.
During an appearance on Boston Public Radio on Wednesday, Janey brought up the task force when asked about how her administration is working to address the epicenter of the opioid crisis in Boston, and whether she plans to use ferries to more quickly get recovery services re-established on Long Island.
The mayor said she is looking at ferry options, but that Long Island remains a “long term solution” and more needs to be done “on the ground now.”
“I’m sure you guys have seen the reports of frustration around the task force,” Janey said. “I appreciate the effort and the work that members have given over the last two years, but we need to revamp that. We need to make sure that we are moving on the ground in a way that gets people the service and the treatment that they need. And also recognizing the frustration that residents feel.”
The city leader said she doesn’t want the situation to become “us vs. them” when it comes to addressing the effects of the crisis on neighborhoods and helping those who are struggling.
“Both things are important,” she said during her appearance. “Our businesses are important, our residents who are impacted by this are important. But certainly also the individuals who are dealing with substance use disorder, mental health challenges, and homelessness.”
The work the city is already doing needs to be done “more aggressively to meet the need and the challenge before us,” Janey said.
In response to questions from Boston.com about what a “revamp” of the task force entails, a spokesperson in the mayor’s office said it “does not mean disbanding and replacing it and it is not on hiatus.”
“The City continues to work collaboratively to improve the Mass and Cass 2.0 Plan, based on the Mayor’s proposed action plan on how to move forward,” the statement continued. “The City looks forward to our continued work with the Task Force to best address the needs of individuals suffering from substance use disorder, as well as promote public safety in the area.”
According to the mayor’s office, the city plans to present the “plans” at meetings of the task force in September.
Read the full story from Boston.com.