Campbell proposes comprehensive Mass and Cass policy plan

Running for mayor, City Councilor Andrea Campbell just published a document of goals drafted in collaboration with advocates on the front lines of Boston's drug crisis

Andrea Campbell speaks during an event in 2017. Campbell is now pushing an aggressive slate of changes to Boston’s response to drug and homelessness issues in the Mass and Cass neighborhood. (Photo used under Creative Commons license)

City Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Andrea Campbell rolled out a multifaceted plan, Jan. 22, to tackle drug and homelessness issues in the troubled Mass and Cass region of Boston. 

Months after she became the first city councilor to meet with a group of local advocates pushing a new message of change, Campbell now has those same leaders feeling cautiously optimistic about her efforts. 

“This plan is a continuing commitment that I will listen to your concerns, show up and take action, not only now, but if I get the opportunity to be your mayor,” Campbell said in a conference call with those advocates. 

Decentralization, specialization and organization in a proposed Mass and Cass response

If she’s elected mayor, Campbell’s plan calls for better data and more transparency from city departments fighting the drug epidemic. 

Campbell wants a dedicated first responder unit trained and focused just on the issues unique to the Mass and Cass region. 

She also aims to “reactivate” vacant recovery facilities on Long Island in the Boston Harbor and compromise with Quincy officials currently fighting efforts to rebuild a bridge to that property. Namely, she’s called for a feasibility study on ferry service to and from the island in lieu of a bridge, something Boston has opposed outright thus far.

Overviewing it all, Campbell says that, as mayor, she would hire a singular Mass and Cass Chief to head Boston’s relevant efforts.

That person would marshal a team of public and private sector allies to decentralize addiction services currently clustered in the city. It would expand affordable housing opportunities. And it would open new shelter-type facilities in vacant properties across Boston. 

“The goal is to have folks dedicated so that they can build relationships with the people who need help at Mass and Cass,” Campbell said. “...We have to break down the silos between all the providers.”

New action on a longstanding issue

Boston has taken many of these steps before.

Incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh, who is set to start work in President Joe Biden’s cabinet, soon, has prioritized reopening the Long Island Recovery Campus since its closure in 2014 following the demolition of an aging bridge. 

There’s also a Recovery Services Office already in existence at City Hall. That team leads addiction services across Boston. 

More so, the Mass and Cass 2.0 Task Force has met regularly since 2019 as an advisory group brainstorming policy solutions to neighborhood problems. Often touted by Walsh, the Task Force aims to break down silos in the same way that Campbell described, Jan. 22. 

Similarities aside, Campbell argues that her plan bucks a problematic status quo.

“I’m not accepting the ‘We don’t have the resources’ answer,” she told advocates, referencing a common response from city officials that has enraged them over recent months. “…We absolutely have resources.”

The key, Campbell says, is presenting a unified but compassionate front against addiction. Rather than acting as a disjointed conglomerate of well-meaning advocates, public health experts and city officials, Campbell says an organization under her proposed Mass and Cass Chief could help win grants, federal aid money and more.

“There are many folks waiting to support these efforts,” she said. 

Advocates celebrate promising effort

Already supporting this, of course, are those aforementioned advocates who consulted with Campbell as she worked in recent weeks. 

“We are honored to see this level of commitment on this issue by an elected official and mayoral candidate,” read a tweet on the South End Roxbury Community Partnership Twitter account, Jan. 22.

The Community Partnership has led protests and online discussions about quality-of-life issues in the Mass and Cass area since September of last year.

After announcing it via a Boston.com article, Jan. 21, Campbell then brought her plan back to advocates for a well-attended early morning Zoom call the next day.

“I’m grateful to each and every one of you for your work and your leadership,” she told attendees. “...I have always believed that our residents have the solutions to many of our problems.”

Hours later, she was with advocates again for an in-person walkthrough of the Clifford Park neighborhood near the Mass and Cass area. Like Mass and Cass, Clifford Park has seen complaints of discarded needles, open drug use and homelessness ramp up over the last decade since the closure of the Long Island Recovery Campus spilled people in need onto the streets.

“The entire Mass [and] Cass area has turned into a giant toilet,” Suffolk County Sheriff Stephen Thompkins said during that call with advocates. “…There’s trash all over the place...We need, in that area, some assurances that the city is going to get down there with some regularity every day and clean that up.”

Campbell’s plan aims to highlight advocacy for Mass and Cass residents

Andrea Campbell has eyes on higher office. 

She’s hardly alone in speaking out about Boston’s addiction issues especially in an election season now full of mayoral contenders seeking to fill Walsh’s shoes.

This week, with her policy proposal in hand, though, she’s aiming to stand out as a particularly staunch ally of advocates offering a bridge towards a brighter future. 

“Enough is enough,” she told advocates during their call. “We absolutely can have a better, more improved response at Mass and Cass.”

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