It’s a cold day in Boston and soon our faces will be visited by the sweet sting of arctic air. However, not all among us will be able to seek refuge from it, particularly the homeless, many of whom have been struck down by opioid addiction. The opioid crisis is real and it is here in our communities.
For those who have been touched by this crisis and those who are simply following the devastation, it’s started to become impossible to look away from a hard truth: The “War on Drugs” is a failed and racist policy that has exacerbated this public health crisis. These policies have targeted and destroyed countless families in communities of color across the nation. There has long been two sets of rules.
As a parent, it is frustrating to worry about children finding needles and other unsafe items in the park. As parents, we want what’s best for our children. With that said, most of us also want compassion shown to those gripped by this unrelenting crisis. That care and consideration must go further than well wishes and good faith gestures. We must provide funding for prevention services and drug treatment.
Instead of mass incarceration policies like increasing penalties for drug dealers, we need to move forward with what data has already shown works. Injection sites allow folks to have a direct line to services and reduce the spread of harmful diseases and overdoses. It’s not about moving the problem off the street; it’s about moving the problem to a solution.
I believe that children are psychologically impacted at a young age when they see folks who are visibly whacked out on drugs on a regular basis. It can be hard to see if you’re Brookline-minded “persist-ers,” but to many families when they hear the words “we must persist,” we wonder for how much longer? This crisis has hit communities of color the hardest; yet, they have received the harshest consequences and the least public relief.
We are big on EQUITY here at MPU because our Parent Leaders demand it!
On a past MPU Live, we spoke with Parent Leader Leon Rivera from Dorchester who leads park clean-ups and awareness campaigns to improve the safety of parks for children and families. He is someone who walks the walk to help those affected by this crisis. Leon secured crowdsourced funding from the community to purchase a needle dropbox with the hope that its introduction at Clifford Park, alongside continued direct outreach, will lessen the amount of discarded needles. I have joined Leon on multiple occasions—including the night after we filmed MPU Live—to distribute food, water, and blankets from community events to those on the streets. I also went with him to install the needle dropbox. We Installed the box at the end of football practice for the Boston Bengals, which is a local Pop Warner football team led by community leader Domingos DaRosa. DaRosa explained that before every practice he and his players sweep the park for needles—a practice that undoubtedly prevents tragedy.
“Even the out-of-town rugby teams who use this field know better then to tackle each other on this field,” one parent said. “For some of us, this is our only option. Does a kid need to get HIV before we do something about it?”
DaRosa puts a lot of his own money and “sweat equity” into making sure the kids have a safe place to practice. He said, “If I didn’t bolt and chain these porta john’s closed at the end of practice, it wouldn’t be safe for our children to use the restroom during practice. You can imagine what could happen. They are still kids and don’t need to be exposed to that.”
The next morning after our MPU Live and a Council hearing on opiates, I noticed a lot of activity that truly made me hopeful. As I passed by Mass Ave. and Melnea Cass, the Boston area considered at the heart of the crisis, I saw two MSP cruisers with flashers on along the corridor, eight motorcycle cops parked on the median in front of the Best Western Roundhouse Hotel, eight outreach workers from the Department of Public Health, a large BPD presence, and trucks from the Parks Department removing truckloads of trash and debris from the roadway along Melnea Cass leading to the expressway.
I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed by this and thought: “The Mayor must have watched our live video last night!” I quickly realized the cause of all the activity. The Mayor was doing a press conference, which a member of the Boston Publix’s Health Commission invited me to attend. At the press conference, I was once again inspired by the Mayor’s candor and openness as he stood in his truth as an unashamed member of the recovery community.
I personally admire this, as my life was impacted by the neglect of an addict that resulted in my growing up in state-sponsored child welfare. Clearly, this hits close to home for me. Shifting the blame off of the victims of drug addiction is a key part of what I heard at the press conference. They announced pending litigation against big pharmaceutical companies who are responsible for a new generation of opiate addiction in Massachusetts through profit-driven and unethical business practices. This crisis is the result of decades of putting profits over patients and I am pleased to see the commonwealth moving forward with litigation.
After the cameras leave, Leon, Domingos, and I—as well as countless Parents—will still be here on the ground. We hope the Mayor continues to press forward in his plan to rebuild the Long Island Bridge and reconsiders reopening the homeless beds. He may have to burn a few of his own to rebuild this one for us, and I stand ready to support and back our Mayor in this fight!
By Ed Shoemaker