Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office is allocating $400,000 to a program that hopes to provide an alternative to prosecution for people struggling with homelessness and substance abuse issues at Boston’s intersection between Melnea Cass Boulevard and Mass. Ave, known as Mass. and Cass.
“In addition to substance abuse disorders, we see mental health issues, homelessness, unemployment and many other factors,” Hayden said at a Monday news conference. “It would be very easy for us to say, just get these people out of here. But the right approach is to say, let’s give these people a way out of here.
In anticipation of an increase in the area’s population during the summer months, funds from the DA’s Asset Forfeiture Fund will be used to expand Services Beyond Sentences (SOS), a program launched in the year the latter in partnership with the North Suffolk Mental Health Association.
“It is clear that the involvement of traditional courts is not the answer for many vulnerable people in or around the center of Mass. and Cass,” Hayden said. “We need to present alternative solutions that identify and address the issues that got them there in the first place. I’m confident that this program does that, and I think money seized from drug-related convictions is an appropriate method to fund it.
With a tentative launch date of June 2, the funding will cover one year of services for 30 people, primarily but not exclusively focusing on those living in and around Mass. and Cass. Depending on the specific needs, people will be placed in sober housing, intensive rehabilitation and detox programs. The program will be voluntary and those accepted will be placed in programs across the state on condition of sobriety, said Audrey Clairmont, director of substance abuse services at North Suffolk Mental Health.
Those who are not ready to commit to sobriety or drug rehab “will be screened out because they have to enroll in this program,” Clairmont said, “and there will be complete transparency about the goals of this program. The goal is recovery.
The program will have the capacity to work with 30 people at a time, Clairmont said, although she expects more people to be served as people move in and out of recovery. Hayden described the program as “a piece of the puzzle” working in tandem with programs run by the City of Boston and local nonprofits.
“We have hundreds of people on the streets in Mass. and Cass, and many of them need help,” said Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association. “This program will allow the prosecutor’s office and the police to give an option to all those who are arrested for crimes that are not violent. For now, there is no option. »
Eligibility will be determined “on a case-by-case basis,” Hayden said, seeking candidates through a court system and accepting pre- and post-arraignment cases involving nonviolent offenders who have committed offenses “of low level”.
When asked what constitutes a “low-level violation,” Hayden emphasized a thorough vetting process that varies from case to case.
“We will distinguish between those who need help and those who prey on those most in need,” Hayden said, “and we will make that decision on a case-by-case basis, looking at each situation and making the best decision possible. . .”
Those who engage in human trafficking will be prosecuted, and “people who come in and sell drugs and bring drugs into this area and sell them to people they know have the problem of addiction,” he said. said Hayden. “If we catch them, they will be prosecuted.”
In response to a series of recent stabbings in the area, city officials blocked off Atkinson Street and temporarily closed the Engagement Center, a resource center that offers food, medical assistance and other resources to the people who live there. On Sunday, more than 100 people gathered along the sidewalk of Mass. Ave, while waiting for the center to reopen on Tuesday.
“They’re getting more aggressive here, pushing us out of this area,” Daniel Flynn, who has been homeless since 2006, told GBH News on Sunday. ”