Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, when there was talk of expanding Logan Airport to the detriment of residents in the communities of Winthrop, Revere, Chelsea, and South Boston, among others, then-State Senator William Bulger of So. Boston suggested constructing a second major airport for the Boston metro area in the town of Dover, the upper-class suburb west of Boston.
Bulger knew that his idea would never fly (pun intended), but the point he was making was this: Residents of low-income communities should not have to be the only ones to bear the burden of the noise and air pollution from Logan Airport.
Similarly, we view the ongoing controversy regarding the growing problem of homeless and drug-addicted persons at the Mass. and Cass intersection in the same light. The extraordinary statement released last week by Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo in response to the suggestion that a hotel in Revere be converted into a homeless shelter and treatment facility highlights the unequal burden being placed upon the communities of the immediate Metro Boston area of dealing with the scourge of drug addiction, which goes hand-in-hand with homelessness
As Mayor Arrigo’s statement points out, this is not NIMBY-ism. Revere and Boston already shoulder a huge share of the burden. But he states quite frankly — and truthfully — that the problem is a regional one and requires a regional solution. Indeed, it has been reported that 70 percent of those who live on Boston’s streets are not Boston residents.
However, we think that truly solving the problems of drug addiction and homelessness has to be even more systemic in order to address their root cause.
First and foremost, we must end the war on drugs. The best evidence that our Forever War on Drugs (now more than 50 years old) has been a total failure is this: In 2020, there were more than 93,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, a number that shattered the previous record. The U.S. now has one of the highest rates of drug-related deaths in the world. Indeed, it is fair to say that it is the War on Drugs itself that is directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.
Massachusetts spends about $60,000 per inmate per year in our prisons. For those whose sole “crime” was simple possession of a drug or a failed urine test with a Probation Officer, incarceration is merely a revolving door that accomplishes nothing, either for the individual or society, at a great financial cost to all of us.
We call upon our state’s political leaders to show a little bit — just a bit — of courage in order to enact legislation similar to what the voters in Oregon approved in 2020 when they decriminalized the possession of all drugs.
Second, the state should establish clean injection sites with appropriate mental and physical health capabilities. Portugal has been doing this for 20 years and has by far the lowest rate of drug-overdose deaths in Europe at six per million of its population. By contrast, Scotland has a rate of 335 drug-related deaths per million for persons ages 15-64 — which is about the same rate as we have here in the U.S. — and which is 15 times greater than the rate for the rest of the nations in Europe (and exponentially more than Portugal’s).
Clean injection sites in Portugal (and Switzerland) provide addicts with drugs that are not dangerously-laced with fentanyl or other substances, while also offering services for their physical and mental health. In addition, safe injection sites avoid the problem of dirty needles, which still ranks as one of the chief causes for the transmission of AIDS and other serious diseases which, by the way, seep into our population as a whole.
There presently are bills pending before the legislature to establish clean injection sites and we call upon our legislature to pass this legislation expeditiously.
Third, we need to get creative in order to build affordable housing for those who presently live on the streets. Our present policy of doing next to nothing for the homeless is a tragedy that is played out every day at Mass. and Cass.
There will be a large cost at the outset for any housing program for the homeless. But in the long run, there will be huge savings of tax dollars when we abandon our present failed model of arrest-prosecution-incarceration, as well as finally making progress in addressing the problem of substance abuse that afflicts so many.
Oh, and we also suggest that our state officials look into placing drug-treatment and homeless shelters in hotels and other potential sites in the areas of our wealthy suburbs, such as Dover, Wellesley, Weston, etc., so that those communities can do their part to solve the twin crises of drug addiction and homelessness in our state.