Mass. & Cass

Mass. & Cass ...

Annissa Essaba George, running for mayor of Mass. and Cass, announced her new plan to address the citys rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis Sunday afternoon, just blocks from rows of tents and dozens of homeless and drug addicts.

Her proposal, which calls for declaring a Public Health Emergency Zone within.1 mile radius around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, would also create 'a Mass. and Ca czar' in the Boston Public health commission, who would report directly to the city mayor, Essaibi George said during the campaign event.

People gathered in the middle of the road and ran around in police cruisers with flashing lights. Many of those who gathered around the tents and on the sidewalks showed obvious signs of distress.

After her speech, Essaibi George told reporters that we need to help those who are struggling: those that have been victimized, those whose lives have changed, and those with whom theyve been assaulted, as well as respond to the cries and demands from the families and the people who love them. We have got to do this work, and we have to finish it quickly.

Essaibi Georges rival, fellow City Councilor Michelle Wu, highlighted her own plan that morning in response to a reporter question during statewide campaign event to promote her Green New Deal vision for the city with US Senator Edward Markey in South Boston's Moakley Park.

Wu said her plan for Mass. and Cass includes establishing a Cabinet-level position to ensure accountability, outreach services to help get people off the streets, and partnerships to support access to treatment in the city.

This is a serious issue, and we are going to put all of our resources into ensuring that there is accountability and leadership, she added.

People have lived on the streets in the area for years, but problems have significantly escalated since the Long Island Bridge closure in 2014, which led to a rehabilitation facility that provided programs for addressing homelessness and drug addiction. And the hardships for those living on the sidewalks and side streets of the neighborhood have only intensified since the epidemic.

Essaibi George, who was joined at Sundays event by a crowd of supporters, including Massachusetts nurses, Boston firefighters, and Boston EMS members, said she had released statewide aimed to combat the city's opioid epidemic, but this one targeted specifically to the Massachusetts and Cass counties.

She has been visiting the area regularly for years, she said, and has observed the situation around Mass. and Cass worsen with more violence and substance abuse, as well as increasing number of tents being built along city streets.

Her revised plan, she said, would include renewed efforts to get people into recovery, greater investment in services like expanded needle exchanges and safe collection sites, as well as longer-term efforts like reimagining a Long Island treatment campus funded with federal COVID-19 relief money.

Essaibi George said she hopes for a quick resolution to the court battle over the Long Island Bridge between Boston and Quincy. Boston owns the island, but it is accessible through Quincy, where there has been opposition to a new bridge.

She also wants to see a woman-specific, gender-inclusive program for those being victimized while living on the streets.

I want to state very clearly that women in this neighborhood, women within this area are being violated, are raped,are being victimized, andare abused, day in, night out, Essaibi George stated. It must stop.

After the candidates speech, a woman walking along the nearby sidewalk approached Essaibi George, and the pair spoke in private for several minutes through dangling chain-link fence.

Essaibi George said her staff will work with the woman about some of the specific concerns she raised in a brief follow-up interview.

The battle is real; its here; you cant escape it, Essaibi George said.

Wu, whose South Boston visit Sunday morning was one of several scheduled for the day, focused largely on her plans to address climate change with Markey. Wu, on the other hand, responded to a Globe reporters questions about Mass. & Cass, saying she has visited the area several times during her tenure as senate councilor, including several time this year.

Every time you are there, seeing the overlap of the crises we are experiencing on substance abuse, housing, [and] mental health, Wu said. Boston can do better, Boston admits.

During fall and winter, publicly owned buildings will be retrofitted so people won't have to spend the winter out in the cold, she added. She stressed that the issue affects other areas as well.

This is a regional conversation, and its time for the city of Boston, as well as the mayor, to be driving that forward, Wu said.

On Saturday, the Boston Herald reported on a Boston Police Department document that detailed how officers would identify and apprehend individuals in the Mass. and Cass areas who have multiple arrest warrants on them.

Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a Police Department spokesman, said on Sunday evening that officers have been providing services in the Mass. and Cass and Newmarket Square areas 24 hours based on seven days. The police document, which was obtained by the Globe Sunday, does not reflect any changes in that effort, he added.

We continue to eliminate violent criminals from the streets that rob the vulnerable population in the area, Boyle stated.

Essaibi George made a distinction for reporters at the event Sunday afternoon between people suffering from addiction and other crises and those pushing drugs around Mass. and Cass.

Every single day, there are people here who are suffering, and who remain constantly and continuously victimized and taken advantage of by people who sell and deal drugs, she added, as part of a larger drug trade. [The dealers] must be held accountable, they must bailed, and we must deal with them through our court system and criminal justice system.

Wu, in response to a reporters question Sunday morning about the police document, said that issues in the neighborhood cannot be resolved through arrests.

We cannot address an opioid crisis, a crisis of mental illness, and he argued, through criminalization, Wu added. We will be working in close collaboration with all of our city departments from a public safety, public health, and housing perspective to ensure we are addressing the real causes of this problem, he added.

Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.

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