Taking steps to make Egleston Square safer and more inviting not only for local businesses but also for the residents who live around the area was the focus of the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association (ESNA) meeting on Monday night that was held at the YMCA at Washington Street.
Among those attending the meeting were Boston police officers, local residents and several representatives from health and housing agencies — Rogerson Communities, Dimock Street Community Health Center, Bay Cove, Health Care for the Homeless and Pine Street Inn — as well as elected officials Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley and Rep. Liz Malia.
The meeting started with Boston Police Captain Greland from District E-13 updating attendees on the recent developments in the shooting in the Square that happened mid afternoon on Jan. 18. Afterwards, the meeting focused on starting the process to find solutions for the drinking and drug use that is happening on a daily basis in the Square.
“For almost two years, I have heard repeatedly about people using residents’ property to do drugs or drink, panhandling and harassing. How can we address this? We are not looking just to move people out, but get these people services that they need,” said Alvin Shiggs of the ESNA.
These street problems were echoed by local homeowner Jonathan Watkins who said, “the issue is that a lot of people are gathering in the square doing drugs or drinking. The issues will remain while people are sitting in the plaza all day.”
Police outlined how they are combating the problem of people who are drinking or doing drugs.
“A lot of people don’t want help (to stay clean of drugs), they would rather be arrested, since they will be released and back on the streets in hours,” said one officer in attendance. He mentioned that police are using the Section 35 law that seeks to get treatment for homeless people with a drug problem.
Boston Police Sgt. Messina of the Bike Patrol told of how he has formed relationships with certain homeless persons who are in the square, and how he tries to move them into detox centers, and then once they complete the month-long detox, he encourages them to stay sober with additional help from more agencies. “Section 35 is a just a tool to get them on the right track,” Messina said.
Chang-Diaz mentioned how, as a mother with two children, she is dismayed to see used needles on her street. “My role at the state level is to take what I hear and see what is working and not working. Making sure that funding is in place for these agencies,” she said.
Rep. Liz Malia echoed this thought saying, “We need to build an infrastructure and tools to help people. This drug use is a disease and needs to be treated as such.”
O’Malley asked, “how do we get help for these people?“
The meeting ended with all agreeing that the problem of drinking and drug use and getting these people help are much more complicated with no easy fix.
“We need to talk about concerns and find solutions. These issues are not going away anytime soon,” said Shiggs. The next meeting of the ESCA will be on March 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the YMCA, 3134 Washington Street.