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## A Coalition Calls for the Creation of a Recovery Campus in Boston to Address Drug Use and Homelessness

A coalition comprised of Boston businesses and neighborhood groups has launched a campaign advocating for the establishment of a recovery campus at the Widett Circle, which is owned by the MBTA. This initiative aims to alleviate the persistent challenges associated with drug use and homelessness in the area commonly known as “Mass. and Cass.”

The proposal, introduced by the South End Forum and the Newmarket Business Improvement District, outlines plans to construct temporary cabins that would provide support to individuals at various stages of their recovery process. The coalition has identified the 24-acre Widett Circle, previously occupied by the New Boston Food Mart Corporation and once considered as a key component of Boston’s Olympics bid, as the ideal location for this endeavor. Currently, the MBTA intends to transform the property into a major rail yard.

Steve Fox, the chair of the South End Forum, emphasizes the urgent need to divert people away from the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area, where open-air drug use, tent encampments, and reports of violence have become prevalent. The goal is to instead direct individuals to a self-contained recovery campus equipped with essential services.

To address the issue of relapse and ensure continuous support, the proposed recovery campus will not dismiss individuals if they experience a setback. Instead, they will be reintegrated into the recovery cycle without being cast aside, providing a safety net for those who require ongoing care and assistance. This approach aims to improve the consistency and efficacy of addiction recovery programs.

The estimated cost of the three-year commitment for the recovery campus is approximately $25 million, which could be shared among the city, state, federal government, and private funders. If the plan garners prompt support, the site could be operational by winter.

The proponents of the proposal draw a comparison to Long Island, which once housed a treatment campus in Boston Harbor. However, due to safety concerns, the bridge to the island was closed in 2014. Although the Boston Mayor Michelle Wu administration is working towards rebuilding the bridge and establishing a new center, this process could take years. The coalition argues that immediate action is necessary and that community members cannot wait for such a lengthy timeline.

At the press conference unveiling the proposal, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Andrew Square Civic Association, Rep. John Moran of Boston, and Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins expressed their support for the recovery campus initiative. Sheriff Tompkins highlighted the urgency of mental health care and substance use care, emphasizing the need for additional beds to address these issues instead of sending affected individuals to correctional facilities.

The dire nature of the Mass. and Cass situation has been acknowledged by elected officials for some time, with Mayor Wu stating that a change in approach is necessary as conditions have become too perilous for certain workers. However, it remains uncertain whether local officeholders will endorse the proposal put forth by local businesses and civic groups, and how it would fit into existing plans for the Widett Circle property.

In response to the campaign, Governor Maura Healey’s spokesperson, Karissa Hand, stated that the administration is receptive to input from stakeholders regarding potential avenues to connect individuals with substance use disorders to treatment and shelter.

The MBTA recently acquired the Widett Circle property for $255 million, intending to develop it into commuter rail facilities that will store and maintain vehicles. This project is vital for reducing train congestion on the Fairmount Line, increasing platform capacity at South Station, and mitigating diesel emissions in the area.

Mayor Wu’s office acknowledged a meeting between city officials and the South End Forum and the Newmarket Business Improvement District without providing explicit details. The statement from the mayor’s press office indicated that residents should anticipate new approaches in the near future, including enhanced law enforcement, to better serve the neighborhood and address ongoing challenges.

Moving forward, the coalition of supporters aims to establish a steering committee that brings together various entities in one forum. This collaborative effort intends to leverage the positive feedback received thus far and build upon the comprehensive framework proposed.

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