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‘No one is doing enough’: Wu responds to state urging Boston to do more work at Mass. and Cass

“We have enough data and learnings from our work to know what’s missing — a true commitment to a statewide approach.”

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe, File

Mayor Michelle Wu is doubling down on her request that state officials step up and follow Boston’s model for addressing the humanitarian crisis at Mass. and Cass after receiving a letter from state defending its contributions and placing the responsibility on the city to do more work in the area. 

Mass. & Cass:

Last week, Wu called on the state to create 1,000 new units of low-barrier, transitional housing outside the city to help address the ongoing confluence of addiction, mental health, and homelessness crises at Mass. and Cass. The mayor touted the work that has been done by the city since January, in particular calling out the creation of 192 units of low-threshold supportive housing, saying there have been “amazing results.” 

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The mayor said nearly 400 people from Mass. and Cass have been connected to low-threshold housing, and city officials said 72 formerly homeless individuals from the area — who were initially brought into one of the six low-threshold, medically-supported sites that were set up in early 2022 — are now living in stable, permanent housing. At least 65 of those individuals are in units outside the city.

Typically, “low-threshold” refers to placing minimal requirements on individuals seeking access to services, removing or reducing barriers such as a mandate of sobriety, for people to receive harm reduction care or housing.

“We simply cannot sustain a model that we know works — of providing housing to be that stepping off point and stabilization point for services — to house the entire New England region,” Wu said last week. “And so we’re looking for that partnership from the state.” 

So far, the state appears less than enthusiastic about the plea for greater partnership.

In a pointed letter sent to Wu on Wednesday, obtained by WBUR, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the state has invested over $40 million to address the crisis through measures including low-threshold housing, harm reduction, and treatment services. 

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The state, Sudders argued, has already been working “in close partnership with the city,” pointing to its involvement in standing up the low-threshold cottages at the Shattuck

She said it is the city that needs to do more, urging Boston to “pursue criminal investigations and community policing efforts” in the area. 

“The Administration has been and continues to be a very willing partner in this crisis, but at this point, more work must be done by the City of Boston, including leveraging the nearly $5M of the $18M anticipated in opioid settlement funds to build trust and help people receive the housing, care, and support that find the pathway to recovery.”

Wu had her own sharp words for the state on the issue in response.

The mayor said in a Thursday statement that the city is grateful to have worked with the state in establishing the 192 units of low-threshold, supportive housing in Boston.

But she pointed out that “to this day,” no such supportive housing sites have been created outside of the city to help unhoused individuals.”

“We know our approach has delivered clear results, but Boston continues to serve a flow of individuals from outside our city and region,” Wu said. “At this very moment, we have a waitlist of more than 150 people, for whom access to low-threshold housing, treatment, and services carries life or death stakes. No one is doing enough. Boston continues to do more, but the waitlist continues to grow faster than spots are made available from individuals transitioning into permanent housing.”

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The mayor said the city is continuing to fund housing and services, including day services at the Engagement Center in the area, public health outreach, and the presence of Boston police in the area. 

“But this isn’t about dollars — it’s about people,” Wu said. “We have enough data and learnings from our work to know what’s missing — a true commitment to a statewide approach. The City and the state have both invested significant time and money, but the individuals on our waitlist need us to take shared ownership of the regional and statewide challenge that exists today.”

Wu said the city looks forward to “being the strongest partner now” but also to the “next chapter of state leadership” taking on the issue and “scaling up what we have seen works and saves lives.”

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