In the early 1960s, I spent years in the Mass Ave area of Boston, mostly visiting jazz clubs. That was long before Mass Ave territory (outside of The Boston Medical Center) gave way to countless homeless and drug-addled citizens. Mass Ave and Melnea Cass Boulevard are in the shadow of one of the city’s busiest hospitals, Boston Medical Center.
Through the years, Debbie and I have returned often to the area, especially the blocks from the Boston Taj on Arlington Street to Tremont Street, visiting some of our favorite restaurants. From the Southeast Expressway (Exit 18, it’s a straightforward exit toward Mass Ave, then a right on Mass Ave itself, another right onto Tremont, a left on Berkley before taking a right on Commonwealth around the corner from the old Boston Ritz/Taj (soon to be opened as The Newbury).
Even though I know this small bit of city real estate as well as I know any city area, I was not prepared for what we recently saw. Last we made that turn onto Mass Ave was in December for our annual Boston Pops Christmas concert.
Now in early Sept 2020, the change is staggering. Homeless encampments everywhere. Arriving at our hotel, we quickly canceled our Tremont Street lunch and Back Bay dinner plans. We have been going to the same establishments for years, but now did not feel comfortable venturing out and about.
Instead, we reserved dinner at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant. That was that for this summer’s Boston visit. We did walk to the Prudential Center for lunch at Eataly, but the visit to the Pru only highlighted the depressing, vacant, soulless vibe we encountered. Not feeling totally comfortable outside of our hotel, we opted not to walk the several blocks around the neighboring ‘hoods – Copley Square, historic Trinity Church, Boston Public Library.
Due to COVID-19, the December Boston Pops Christmas event has been canceled, of course. I cannot imagine when we will return to what has been for over five decades our favorite big city in America.
To get a better feel of what w just experienced on the ground, read the Boston Globe’s most recent update below.
By David Abel Boston Globe Staff:
“Behind the Southampton Street Shelter, a police cruiser idling across a narrow road, a jittery man in a tank top handed another man some crumpled bills, then walked into a city-run “comfort station” and stuck a needle in the crook of his arm.
A few blocks away outside the Woods-Mullen Shelter, where dozens of unmasked people milled about recently, some shooting up in broad daylight, a city worker at another comfort station filled a bucket with scores of discarded needles scattered around the area.
The corridor around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard at the edge of Roxbury and the South End— one of Boston’s roughest areas, known widelyas Methadone Mile — has deteriorated during the pandemic. It has become more crowded with people who are homeless and those suffering from addiction; also more violent, grimy, and forbidding, a procession of despair and disability, a place where too many live, suffer, and die.
Since March, many daytime services and places for those with addiction to receive treatment have closed, as have many public buildings and businesses where homeless people previously could spend their days or use the bathrooms. The virus has led to an increase in releases from jails and prisons, with many former inmates having nowhere to go. It has also produced a surge in people living on the streets, with many homeless people choosing to avoid the cramped quarters of shelters.
The neighborhood has changed markedly in the six years since city officials condemned an old, dilapidated bridge that led to the now-closed Long Island campus, a refuge in Boston Harbor that for decades provided emergency shelter and addiction services to more than 700 people every night.”
“Things are getting to a tipping point,” said Bob Minnocci, a longtime resident of the South End.
Read more about why Massachusetts has the nation’s highest unemployment, and why so many Boston restaurants have closed. Also, check in on the nearly empty campus at the University of Massachusetts.