By Michael Coughlin Jr.
During its general meeting on Monday, the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA) hosted Christine Poff from the Franklin Park Coalition to discuss several topics impacting the park. One of the major items mulled during the discussion was regarding plans that would redevelop the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital Campus. Per a press release from June 21 on the state’s website, the vision for the site is “an innovative campus that promotes health, reduces barriers to treatment, integrates physical and behavioral health care with supportive housing, and prioritizes connections to the natural environment.” The release also details the plan for the site, which was proposed by the “Boston Medical Center and its partners (BMC Team),” who have been designated for the redevelopment. Initial planning includes two facilities containing 326 treatment beds, 200 units of permanent supportive housing, 205 units of family supportive housing, and 120 emergency housing beds. There are also plans to include seven-plus acres of open and green space. However, it should be noted that the release indicates that the proposal “does not represent a final plan for implementation and will be subject to further dialogue with the Commonwealth and community representatives.” Monday’s discussion centered on concerns from residents regarding the current redevelopment proposal. “We estimate they’ll be at least 1,000 people on the campus who are struggling with substance use issues — potentially in recovery and working to recover, but if you know anything about that, it’s a very challenging process, and it can take years,” said Poff. Poff indicated some worries about the project, alluding to the point that there are already the Shattuck cottages and low-threshold housing in the area serving individuals, and there has been evidence of active drug use in Franklin Park. “We know that many of them are actively using in the park. Some of your neighbors have been picking up needles and trash, and we call the parks department often, and they come and pick up needles and trash,” said Poff. “We see deals going down, and we see people shooting up, and some of you have stopped using the park as much,” she added. The substance use issues already plaguing the park have reached a point where an entire website — http://bostonheatmap.com/ — has been developed to document needle and drug paraphernalia pickups. “We’ve been picking up needles and finding needles in the park for the past year now, maybe a bit over a year now … a lot in the Williams Street entrance, a lot in the woods and going toward the Shattuck,” said Rory Coffey, a member of SNA’s Steering Committee. In a sobering moment during the meeting, Allan Ihrer, who has been involved with the needle pickups alongside Coffey, showed multiple full plastic bottles of needles and other drug paraphernalia, emphasizing the safety hazards that have overtaken the park. “It’s a public health hazard, and so we, you know, I think we take it pretty seriously in trying to get that stuff out of the park,” said Ihrer. Moreover, meeting attendees seemed to feel that the concentration of so many people dealing with substance use issues in one area would not be a good idea. For example, one resident who commented on the situation and has been an RN in Boston for over 45 years said, “The point is that a lot of people on the streets are self-medicating; they become addicts. They — concentrated in that group — it will be like blood for a school of sharks.” Another resident in the meeting’s Zoom chat echoed this point about concentration, saying, “Concentrating this amount of active users in one location is not the best hope for those trying to seek recovery.” Additionally, there was a concern among at least one resident regarding the community process, especially considering that Poff mentioned an initial proposal was for a minimum of 75-100 beds, which she says is now “850 or more.” “This whole thing has sort of plowed through community process, and now it’s much larger than it was originally,” said the resident. Following the discussion, there were conversations about creating a sub-committee or even simply penning a letter to respond to the proposal and make the neighborhood’s voice heard. “The Steering Committee will very seriously look at this and get back to the members — the neighbors,” said Alcurtis Clark, a member of the SNA’s Steering Committee.