Unique at Boston's Methadone Mile
Still from Jonathan Choe, © Discovery Institute

Wealth & Poverty Review Struggling at Boston’s Methadone Mile

Crossposted at Fix Homelessness

The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors are in the middle of a hotly contested NBA Finals. The beauty and majesty of both cities are on full display.  As are their flaws.   

Off the court, the San Francisco Examiner gives Boston the winning edge when it comes to dealing with the homeless crisis. 

They credit city leaders for keeping the downtown core tent free and making sure the overall homelessness rate remains under four percent.

But the situation is far from perfect.  On the outskirts of Boston, some call this place “Methadone Mile.” Others give a more hopeful moniker: “Recovery Road.” Either way, city officials say it’s a humanitarian and health crisis. 

The homeless, mentally ill, and drug addicted souls line nearby streets.

Unique, who appears to be in her mid to late 20’s, says she’s just trying to get by.  “I had to go back to prostitution cause after I lost everything — I went to a group home and they haven’t been helping me with shit,” says Unique.  

Unique says sky high housing costs are pushing some people into tents and make-shift shacks.  But she also admits that many are out here by choice and drug dealers prey on their addictions. 

“They could sell you all kinds of things like meth, crack, Johnnies which could be oxycontin,” says Unique. 

Kind and gentle, she describes the people out here as her family. ”You know a lot of these people — they’re not bad people. They’re not going to hurt you.”  She explains that “some of these people don’t even like crack, they just do it trying to escape the pain.” 

For years, this area has attracted people struggling with homelessness and addiction because of the high concentration of social service providers, many coming in from surrounding suburbs. 

“You have a Methadone clinic here, you have a Methadone clinic here,” says Wendall as he points in all directions.  

Wendall, in his late 50’s and considered a veteran of the streets, adds his perspective: “Actually what we’re doing is trying to do is get back into recovery.”   

He says what’s happening is complicated.  “It’s more of an epidemic than a crime.”

He adds that there’s no one-size-fits-all description of the human toll. “Drugs probably is the smallest part of it. Yeah there’s some psychosis going on.”  Wendell then asks this profound question: “We know the problem out here, what’s going to be the solution?”

Last year, crews came in and removed one of the largest encampments the city has ever seen, placing more than 100 people into temporary housing with the hopes of moving them into permanent homes. While the situation has improved, some remain skeptical of the long-term success.  The crisis is still on full display, including the crime and danger that tends to accompany the homeless crisis.    

Today, Annie is showing me how to get high on heroin. 

“They give you the kits here which includes the needles, the water, some alcohol pads, band aids, and the cooker, which is what you cook the dope in,” says Annie.  

She fills the needle with heroin and then wraps her right arm with an elastic band. 

“I go really slow, some people just fucking jam it in there but I’m a wuss so I do it slowly so it hurts less,” says Annie.  

She struggles to find her vein.

“One time it took me six hours and when you eventually inject this heroin. For me it just takes away any pain, I have a lot of guilt in my life. I’m divorced. I have a family at home, a good family that I left behind,” says Annie. 

Annie says she’s been homeless now for several years. 

“It’s easy to be homeless out here. There’s a lot of services. If you want they’ll provide you breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can shower at every shelter.  Sleep in a bed if you want to sleep in a bed.  You can get new clothes if you want to get new clothes. All that’s there for you if you really want it,” she says.

Annie adds she isn’t ready to leave the life of addiction along with the allure of the streets.  “I have a boyfriend right now who’s clean. He just got clean though. He’s trying to help me but it’s really, really hard, like it’s my best friend.” 

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.