Opinion » Guest Opinion

City Councillors Request State of Emergency

Thursday Sep 7, 2023

Dear Boston Public Health Commission,

We write with a sense of urgency in hopes that you take a vote at your next Board of Health meeting on September 13th to declare a State of Emergency in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. This will give the administration more flexibility to respond to the ongoing tragedy of substance use disorder, mental illness, open use of illegal drugs, violence, criminality, and disturbance of urban life that has gone on for far too long.

We have reached a stage where dramatic intervention is vital. We need real solutions that address underlying problems and causes. We believe that the risk exists of compounding the "Mass and Cass" problem by attempting politically expedient solutions that do not address the underlying problems. Additionally, a recent proposal to relocate clinical services and add a shelter at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Albany Street would continue adding to the undue burden already shouldered by the South End and Roxbury neighborhoods.

In truth, the root causes of what has become the central problem of a concentrated handful of neighborhoods lie far outside Boston, but the intersection of Mass and Cass has borne the toll. We ask for swift and comprehensive action to begin the process of bringing relief to this area and the people suffering there.

The "Mass and Cass" situation is worsening, not improving. Data maintained by the City of Boston reflects a 57 percent increase from June 2023 to July 2023 in the number of people who received substance use treatment. In January of 2022, there were 76 BPD incident reports; for the week of August 13, 2023, there were 170 such reports. Outside health care providers have pulled out of the area over safety concerns to their employees. Businesses are suffering, youth activity programs have been jeopardized, and our first responders are subject to dangerous conditions that exceed what should reasonably be expected of people already performing difficult jobs. Long ago, this exceeded the quality of life threshold and has become an outright Public Health Emergency.

Recently, we have seen States of Emergency declared to address the Covid-19 pandemic and the surge in immigrants overwhelming the Commonwealth's capacity. What is unfolding at Mass and Cass, and surrounding neighborhoods, is similar in its multifaceted complexity, and no less dire in its threat to human life and well-being. Our neighbor city Somerville is considering a similar State of Emergency, and Boston's problem is not only far more acute, it is now nearing a decade long.

We know there is no magical solution at Mass and Cass, that the humanitarian crisis was not created overnight and will not be cured that way. Underlying societal ills such as mental health and addiction lie outside of your control, and we pledge to do our part in continuing to do our best in addressing those. But we believe that the human cost is too great to delay significant, concrete action any further.

Thank you for your attention to the urgency of this matter. If we can be of any assistance, please contact us at your earliest convenience.


Erin J. Murphy, Boston City Councilor, At Large

Frank Baker, Boston City Councilor, District 3

President Ed Flynn Boston City Councilor, District 2

Michael Flaherty, Boston City Councilor, At Large