Former City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo, a Jamaica Plain resident and the City’s new chief of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke to the Gazette about his position, his goals for the future and how taking out his trash helps him to be a better public official.
Last fall, Arroyo was one of Walsh’s competitors for the Mayor’s Office. He later teamed up with Walsh and became one of his top campaigners.
As one of Mayor Martin Walsh’s 15 cabinet members, Arroyo described his average day as “drinking water out of a fire hose.”
He spends a lot of time working with the Office of New Bostonians, the Women’s Commission, the Veteran’s Commission. He spends “an awful lot of time” meeting with the city’s other department heads, trying to help them in their own work, or residents with ideas. And he spends time brainstorming how to improve it all.
“The first seven weeks have been a crash course,” he told the Gazette last week. “It is a lot of work. That is not something I want to belittle or run away from. But it’s work I love. I’m very grateful I’ve been given this role. I take very seriously that Mayor Walsh has placed this confidence in me.”
HHS is the largest City agency in terms of departments under its umbrella—everything from immigrant services, to the Public Health Commission, to civil rights, to animal care and control, he said.
“They’re all within my [department]. My job is to help them do their work,” Arroyo said. “And to help the mayor’s vision come to fruition.”
A big priority handed down by Walsh is addressing the city’s health disparity, he said, especially around substance abuse and recovery issues. Walsh is himself a recovering alcoholic.
“He knows what it’s like to find yourself in that situation, but he also knows what it’s like to go through recovery. It’s very near and dear to him and to me,” Arroyo said, adding that HHS is looking to expand its roster of recovery services.
Violence is also a public health issue high in the priority list, Arroyo said.
“It causes trauma, causes pain. It can cause mental health issues and can sometimes result from mental health issues,” he said. “We have to look at how preventative care can serve our neighborhoods.”
Arroyo said he considers the City’s community centers a “real treasure” and added that he hopes “we can do more with them.”
“I want all of Boston to know that they exist and are available to seniors, teens and families,” he said. “And I want to make sure that services that come out of every community center meet a certain standard and that the citizens feel served by them.”
Largely, though, the idea is to make sure “everyone who lives in this city has access to services they deserve,” Arroyo said.
“Every day I have the opportunity to serve in this capacity is an opportunity to move the needle forward,” he said.
And living in JP, in the same Forest Hills condo he and his wife bought in 2001, keeps him focused, he added.
“Part of what attracted me to the neighborhood is that it helps me in my job,” he said. “So many activists and organizers live here. Taking out my trash, I could just as easily have a conversation with my neighbor about the Red Sox as about social issues.”
“We understand we’re stronger together. We help each other be stronger in working to make our neighborhood stronger, to make our city stronger,” he said. “JP is full of that.”