By Dan Murphy
As an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office for the past 13 years, District 8 city council candidate Montez Haywood has seen firsthand the ravages of substance abuse in the city and believes the immediate reopening of the Long Island shelter is the necessary first step to help curtail this glaring epidemic.
“We shouldn’t wait on building the bridge because that plan is flawed…and it will take 10 years to build the bridge if we start tomorrow,” Haywood said. “We have an immediate need today, and there are clearly alternative ways to get service providers and supplies to the people who need help on the island…which is a facility that’s already built.”
Haywood, age 39, was born in Flint, Mich., and raised in in Antioch, Tenn. He relocated to Massachusetts in 2001 to attend Southern New England School of Law (now University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth), and upon earning his law degree in 2004, he worked as an attorney with the Law Office of Deborah G. Kohn, a small civil firm in Fall River, before joining the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in 2006 as a prosecutor in domestic violence cases.
In Haywood’s professional opinion, large police crackdowns in known hot spots – like the “Operation Clean Sweep,” which was launched earlier this month following the attacks on two corrections officers on Aug. 1. in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard (i.e. “Methadone Mile”) – only serves to transpose the problem to other parts of the city, including Mission Hill and the Fenway in District 8.
“When police did sweep at Mass/Cass, it effectively moved the problem, and what I’m calling for is just not moving the problem around the district and into other neighborhoods,” Haywood said. “We need to actually address the problem, identify the people who need help and give them the services they need because the War on Drugs has failed.”
Said Haywood: “We should actually find ways to address the problem and remove human beings in the grips of addiction from people’s front yards, stoops and living space, and allow them to be more easily identified by the city’s social workers and safety net. We need to get them the programming they need, whether it be mental health or violence [counseling] or what the underlying issue is that drove that human being to [use drugs] in the first place.”
If the Long Island shelter, which Mayor Martin J. Walsh abruptly closed nearly five years ago, were to reopen, Haywood believes every individual should have a personalized treatment program conceived for them upon admittance.
“Some will need mental health or substance abuse treatment or some combination thereof,” he said. “We need to start spending money to treat the problem on the front end…[and determine] what caused them to fall into the substance abuse and homelessness in the first place.”
Haywood said the city needs to address the problem of homelessness “by providing people who are housing insecure with housing stability while they get off the street and attempt to straighten out their lives.”
Moreover, Haywood said the city needs to look to models in place around the country and the world, including “safe injection sites.”
“What that does is twofold – it puts trained healthcare professional in these spaces to keep people from overdosing, and it stops people from injecting near people’s houses, parks and church properties…which requires civilians to pick up needles or requires the city to put up boxes [for the disposal of used syringes] near schools,” he said.
Haywood proposes opening one safe injection site at Long Island and another away from Methadone Mile, instead situated behind the Suffolk County Jail near where a food shelter is located.
“These would be the only two locations I’d advocate for in the city…because they could provide access to immediate services and space,” he said. “By doing that, it takes the issue of injection away from the neighborhoods and where people are living, and brings it indoors under the watchful eyes of healthcare professionals.”
Haywood said his support for this approach to the substance abuse problem comes from what he has gleaned from his “field responsibilities” as an assistant district attorney.
“When there is a death in the City of Boston, the prosecutor goes to the scene…and during my time as a prosecutor, I’ve responded to numerous individuals who died alone in a stairwell, in a parking garage, behind a house, in one of our parks or in their homes,” he said. “And all of them could have been potentially avoided if the substance had been consumed under the watchful eye of a healthcare professional.”
For more information on Montez Haywood and his campaign for District 8 city councilor, visit montezhaywood.com or follow MontezHaywoodForCityCouncil on Instagram.