The Dimock Center is a serene retreat for those dealing with substance abuse and rearranging their lives without the distractions of the street. It's set on nine acres in Roxbury, and it'll provide treatment to people struggling with the effects of substance use and provide secluded places to stay where they can regain control of their life.
Two miles away, the Boston opioid crisis is on a nightmarish display, with several hundred people sleeping in tents just outside of the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
Given the scope and urgency of the problem, you'd imagine Dimock is full, with a waiting list for its services and temporary housing. Yet, every night at the nonprofit community health center, which can house 39 people, there are empty detox beds. Dimock isnt a case of skepticism; treatment beds are available in and around Boston. Dimock currently has eight openings.
The disconnect between needs and services and the tragic consequences of it - is indicative of a badly fractured system, the institutional failing of an area rich in resources yet starving for real leadership. What does it say about us if we cant even utilize what we already have to reduce the suffering that has driven so many to live in squalor and despair?
There has been a lot of talk about whats lacking, including too few treatment beds and not enough transitional housing. Maybe whats missing the most is the political courage on the part of our leaders to tell people they cant openly shoot up drugs and occupy streets. As unpleasant as it may sound to some, living in a tent should no longer be considered an option.
We let people sleep in tents because its quicker to come up with solutions than to confront them. But the absence of any meaningful action only makes the situation worse. Mass. and Cass has become a destination for the severely ill, and as anyone who treats substance abuse will tell you, the worst place for someone trying to get clean is around other people using drugs.
Dr. Charles Anderson, the Dimock Center's chief executive, reached out to me because he believes his organization can play a greater role in helping to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Mass. and Cass. He has visited the area several times, as have his staff members. He has spoken with Acting Mayor Kim Janey and others who are working on the situation.
Dimock, which was established in 1862 as the New England Hospital for Women and Children, has space on its campus to add beds and expand programs to assist people break the cycle of addiction. Dimock provides primary care and mental health services to about 19,000 people each year in addition to drug treatment.
Anderson has spent a lifetime studying addiction. During the crack epidemic, he chose to attend the Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center) because a career in addiction treatment was important to him. His father, also a doctor, ran statewide rehabilitative services for decades in upstate New York.
Anderson stated, We want to remind people that we are here. Were just trying to figure out where we can be a real value, he added.
Dimock spent $16 million on upgrading its dormitory-style treatment facility and adding nine beds a few years ago, after Boston's Long Island rehabilitation facility was shut due to an unsafe bridge. Long Island provided 800 beds for homeless people and recovering drug users, giving them a stable place to stay.
Dimock is one of at least a dozen facilities in Greater Boston with treatment beds that allow people to stay for 1-2 weeks to get drugs out of their system. According to a Massachusetts Behavioral Health Access database, there have been about tens of empty beds within 30 miles of Boston in recent days; for example, according to the Massachusetts State Biological Health Authority, that number has increased significantly.
Dimock began putting aside five beds nightly for people who wanted to leave Mass. and Cass three weeks ago, upon the states request. Only a small number of people have arrived so far. Cost isnt a barrier, since you donre not required to pay to receive services.
People can then transition into longer-term programs at Dimock after detox. The facility also has three beds available in its clinical stabilization program, which includes intensive counseling, case management, and after-care planning for up to a month. In Dimocks residential recovery unit, there are 13 beds where people can stay for six to nine months.
Dimock relies on a network of providers and non-profits with outreach teams to recruit patients. These teams patrol the streets daily, tending to basic needs, such as food, clothing, and medicine, all while trying to get those who may be ready for recovery to leave the street.
It may be a bit of shaky sell, however. How do you convince someone who has lost everything to drugs that it is possible to turn around their life and that now is the time to do it? Its hard to see a way out when one dark day fades into the next.
Maia Betts, Dimocks chief behavioral health officer, spoke during a tour of the treatment facility, saying that for some, coming to detox may seem like traumatic experience.
People have lost so much, she said, and having to face all of that, its a difficult place to be.
Knowing how difficult it is to convince people they need help, Anderson, the CEO of Dimock, does not rule out the need for involuntary treatment. That includes considering Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkinss controversial plan to turn an empty detention center into a treatment center for those with outstanding warrants.
There's no one answer off the shelf for this, said Anderson. Pushback can be useful. "It should be treated as a Lets think it through together. "
During my trip to Dimock, I met with people in various stages of recovery. They've been through that rollercoaster of addiction and homelessness, and they're well aware of the worsening conditions at Mass. and Cass. All of them were unmistakable in their conviction that government intervention is needed because people on the street are often too strung out and traumatized to make clear-headed decisions for themselves.
Jamie Adario, 39, who has been in a residential rehabilitation program at Dimock for four months, said that people on Mass. and Cass should be given choices, but that cannot be done on the streets.
Dont accept the choice of staying in a tent.... It shouldnt be an option for our community, she added. Its not just about what s better for the addict, she said.
Christopher Kelley, 56, who is now in remission at Dimock, has been elated to learn about the conditions at Mass. and Cass. He has a beer addiction and has spent two decades in Boston, putting up huts and residing on the streets. Kelley said he found sobriety this time because a veteran of the Army didnt want to sit still and simply exist; Rather, 'he wanted to live'.
As horrendous as the conditions on Mass. and Cass are, he understands why some people choose to live that way. His late sister, who suffered from addiction, used to tell him: Recovery is not for the faint of heart. Its for those who want it.
Which brings us back to solving Bostons opioid crisis in a new light.
Michael Curry, chief executive of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, said the health care community has been focused on fighting COVID-19 and getting vaccines into arms, and it's only now that leaders are able to turn their attention to substance abuse.
There are always breakdowns in the bureaucracy, he added. How do we make sure people get to the right place at the appropriate time?
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.