October 8th marked two years since Boston Mayor Marty Walsh abruptly condemned the bridge leading to Long Island, shuttering Greater Boston’s largest homeless shelter and eleven related substance use disorder treatment programs, with no contingency plan in place. Nearly 700 people’s lives were thrown into chaos that night and the closure continues to have negative impacts on so many, especially as some of the services lost have not been replaced. There has been no effort made on the part of the city to heal the trauma caused by the closure.
For the second year in a row, the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee held a day of action and observance. Nearly one hundred people experiencing homelessness, advocates, members of the faith community and concerned community members gathered at a small park on “Methadone Mile” (also known as “Recovery Road”) in Boston for a Speak Out and rally to demand dignified, safe, sanitary and secure shelter; permanent housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness; solutions to displacement; and increased harm reduction and treatment services for people with substance use disorders. Over a dozen folks bravely shared their experiences of being on the streets and around the closure; their expressions of gratitude for the community of their peers and supporters; and the need to stand together and fight for housing, dignity and respect. We handed out one hundred lunches and MAAP provided Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee sweatshirts and hygiene kits.
We then headed to the steps of the State House where people shared their experiences of living on the streets with opioid use disorder, the lack of supportive services and treatment necessary to reach recovery. Doctors, medical students, public health professionals, and members of the faith community spoke out to demand increased affordable, accessible treatment beds and harm reduction services in an effort to begin to curb the number unintentional opioid related deaths. Opioids are currently taking the lives of 5 residents a day and are the leading cause of death among people experiencing homelessness in MA.
A delegation of dozen folks and I delivered 1,531 certificates, one for each life lost to opioids in 2015, to the office of Mary Lou Sudders, Secretary of Public Health and Human Services to demand a meeting to discuss the opioid crisis and the immediate need for a winter plan to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. We have been trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with her for quite some time. These meetings have increased meaningful conversation among people experiencing homelessness, advocates and state officials around innovate harm reduction solutions, increased treatment for substance use disorders and meeting the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness in a dignifed and supportive manner.