randy laybourne unsplash
Fix Homelessness How to rebuild human lives

From Fenway Park to Mass and Cass


My calendar had yesterday marked off: opening day for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. But I’ve also been reading in the Boston Globe about what’s going on two miles southeast of the beloved ballyard, a drug nightmare where Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard meet.

The inner-city intersection, called Mass and Cass, is the subject of several recent Globe stories. One last October flashed this headline: “Homeless gathering moved off Southampton Street in Mass and Cass area after traffic complaints.” Officials deep clean the area, “which is littered with discarded needles and other trash, multiple times each week”—but some say the only legitimate reason to move people is because they could be hit by cars.

The Globe reported that Atkinson St., just of the Mass-Cass intersection, “has been the scene of brutal street violence. Earlier this year, a city engagement center there was forced to close temporarily after a rash of daytime stabbings.” On Atkinson many people openly plunge needles into their veins. Police do nothing. People overdose as Keshia Alevras, 52, crouches on the Atkinson sidewalk and applies a coat of nail polish: “She had a black eye from someone attacking her with a rock,” but she says, “I have faith in the system, I have faith in the mayor,” Michelle Wu.

Since Boston is now a hub for homeless individuals who come from small New England towns, some Bostonians would like shelters to be built on inexpensive land in outlying areas. But what if Mass/Cass-ites don’t want to go? Here are the advantages of their current shopping center, “People don’t have to search very long for hard drugs; in this marketplace of dependencies, drugs find them. ‘People are yelling out the drugs that they have so you know what to buy,’ says one man who lives in a tent and is addicted to fentanyl.”

Globe reporters Danny McDonald and Craig Walker offered street-level vignettes: “People shoot opioids into their veins. One woman is passed out, her cheek pressed up against the sidewalk pavement, her legs and arms stuck out at odd angles. Shortly after Ryan Jordan, 37, finishes getting his fix, a sedan rolls up and stops. The driver asks if he’s hungry. Jordan stands and, with blood still dripping from a hole in his right arm, his left hand still clenching a syringe accepts a pizza box from the man, who drives off. ‘Happens all the time,’ Jordan says of the free food.”

McDonald and Walker described the daily routine: A man shoots up “into his lower right arm. Five minutes after that, he is retching on the sidewalk. People walk by without a second glance.” Some do have second thoughts: They “dream of a different life, as an illustrator, a bicycle rickshaw driver, a carpenter, a chef, or an interior decorator. But for now, addiction controls them, and erases other ambitions.”

The cause for the horror story, as I understand it, is triangular. Point A is the explosion of fentanyl use. Nineteenth century opium was bad. Twentieth century heroin was bad. Early twenty-first century Oxycontin and meth were bad. But when drug lords swirl fentanyl into the mix, and shoppers crave fixes umpteen times more powerful than what heroin provides, horror multiplies.

Point B on a triangle of pain is the closing of institutions without opening others to take their place. This happened in the 1960s and 1970s with state insane asylums. It happened in Massachusetts in 2014 when officials closed an old, unsafe bridge connecting the mainland to an island in Boston harbor that had a homeless shelter and homeless services buildings. Men and women who had used the facilities were dumped into Boston. Because of political infighting the bridge remains unsafe and unused.

Point C is the unwillingness of the Progressive left, abetted by the anarchic right, to take actions to save the lives of addicts—unless the addicts decide for themselves to save their own lives. Many addicts faithfully worship a higher power: the drug that imprisons them. Some have anosognosia, the disease of not knowing that you have a disease.

Connect A, B, and C and we have a triangle of D for despair.

Marvin Olasky

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Marvin Olasky is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008 and edited WORLD magazine from 1992 through 2021. He is the author of 28 books including Fighting for Liberty and Virtue and The Tragedy of American Compassion.