By Danielle Clark
At the start of spring semester I began an interesting Health Studies course called School and Community Health (HEAL315). A community service-based group project was the core of the entire course. Groups were picked at random, and I was paired with a woman named Lynnel Cox, the founder of an organization called Hand Delivered Hope. The organization provides meals and resources to those who struggle with addiction and homelessness. Immediately, Lynnel wanted us to do our project on an area called Methadone Mile, an area her organization had visited before.
Methadone Mile is an area located in Boston’s South End. The area is approximately 1.034 square miles, hence the “mile” part of the area’s name. Dorchester and Roxbury border the area, and the Mile runs north and south on Massachusetts Avenue. Located within Methadone Mile are two methadone clinics and two shelters. The Mile has a high density of poverty, homelessness, hunger, crime, and drug addiction. These instances are so prevalent that is almost impossible to overlook them
For the course, my group needed to run a “needs assessment” on the community, conduct a tour of the community, plan a program that will assess the needs identified, and then carry out the program. Going on the tour was the first major step.
On a chilly night during the end of February, we surveyed Methadone Mile. We noticed many homeless people sleeping on sidewalks or up against frail-looking trees. A man and woman wearing winter clothing slept on a concrete platform next to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (also known as Universal Church). They shivered and huddled together under a few thin blankets, trying their hardest to stay warm. Right behind where the couple slept, a rat ran by. Needles and trash were scattered around the street nearby.
As the tour continued, Lynnel and I talked to many people living and working in Methadone Mile. First we spoke with transit police officers patrolling the area via motorcycles, and then we spoke with a convenient store sales associate. Both parties agreed that drug abuse and other related criminal activities—like selling illicit drugs—are major problems in the area. Gun violence and shootings are also common in the area. The convenient store put up bulletproof glass at the register to keep the sales associates safe. A shooting occurred shortly before our arrival to Methadone Mile, and luckily we only saw the news crew reporting the story—nothing more. Due to the criminal activity, area is dangerous, seriously needing proper intervention.
Toward the end of the tour, we entered Universal Church, where we were hoping to host our community service project. By this time, we decided that we wanted to hold a one-day drop-in center where people could eat food, stay warm, obtain resources (flyers and cards about help centers) in order to fight their addiction, and gather clothing or toiletries. We talked with Bishop Rohan Taylor and explained our community outreach project. He later agreed to let us host the event there on April 8th.
In the days prior to the drop-in event, several obstacles were in our way, including a lack of tables to put all our gathered items. Also we had no tables for our guests. We feared that they’d have to sit on the floor. Though getting tables to the church at the last minute seemed impossible, we were proactive, rather than letting a logistical issue prevent us from hosting the event. With health education programs, efficacy is vital, so giving up on this event is not an option.
On the day of the event, Lynnel, my parents, and I travelled to the Methadone Mile in order to carry out the service-learning project. After bringing in all our supplies, we set up tables for us to place the food, toiletries, bags, and clothes we gathered. We strung up lights, hung posters, and threw bright tablecloths on the tables in order to liven up the dark, musty church basement.
Once all the food was set out, we opened the doors to those in need and Bishop Taylor said a prayer with everyone. I then hurried over to the tables and served our guests. We had salad, sandwiches, meatballs, and more. I greeted each person with a smile and felt so happy when each one smiled back, thanking me for providing food when they were hungry. After serving for a bit, I took attendance and spoke with some of the homeless and substance abusers present. I even read a letter one man wrote to a shelter that he wanted to enter. All he wanted was help and a roof over his head so he could start over. The letter touched my heart.
When the event was over, I was truly happy that everything went well. We were able to fill the stomachs of homeless people and keep them warm for just over four hours. Even though the event lasted one day, at least we were able to help people. At least we could listen to their stories and put smiles on their faces. And who knows—maybe our model of a drop-in center could even be used as a reference for future drop-in centers. That would continue our success and help those living in the area for a longer amount of time.
After conducting the service-learning project, my perspective on homelessness and drug addiction has continued to change. When the project was first assigned and my group selected Methadone Mile as our area, I was very nervous. I had heard terrifying things about the area from many people, including from a former high school friend of mine who also struggled with addiction and homelessness. He told me to never go to the Mile because of all the needles lying around and because of the crime there.
During the Methadone Mile tour, I had seen what my friend talked about. I watched several people under the influence stumble by, almost falling to the ground. Needles and cigarette butts were everywhere. Ambulances whizzed by and cop car sirens went off. I was terrified. Despite the horror stories I had been told and even witnessed, I’m still glad I went to Methadone Mile. Though crime exists in the area, the people who live on the streets there should not be ignored or given the runaround—people promising to give them help but not truly providing it. These homeless and drug-addicted people are humans who are just trying to live as best as they can with what they have. I’m glad organizations like Hand Delivered Hope try to help these people as much as possible. Wouldn’t you want help in a time of need? People are people no matter what, and they should not be forgotten.