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City finds vermin, drug use in Downtown Crossing alley

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  March 7, 2013 10:52 AM

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John Meaney, the city’s director or environmental services (at left), and other city officials spoke with Rev. John Samaan, president of the Boston Rescue Mission (at right).

It could have been a scene from the movie “Se7en.”

A drizzle fell as police and other city officials examined the grimy downtown alley, where rusted fire escapes loomed in air fragrant with the smells of adjacent restaurants — and their garbage — while rat droppings littered windowsills.

This alley — which zigzags through the block bordered by Chauncey, Bedford, Kingston, and Summer streets in Downtown Crossing — wasn’t the site of a gruesome killing, but it is home to illegal and unsanitary activities that city officials hope to bring to an end.

“This is pretty bad,” said Bryan Glascock, the city’s commissioner of inspectional services, in an interview in the alley on Wednesday.

“Every alley may have an issue here or there, but I think the fact that this one’s totally private, and you almost don’t even know it’s back here — there’s nobody back here doing anything [unless they’re] up to no good,” Glascock said. “So no one’s complaining about it, unlike the ones that are more public.”

Glascock was there with officials from the Inspectional Services Department’s health, environmental, building, and code enforcement divisions, along with fire and police departments and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, to re-inspect the alley, issue additional violations if necessary, and develop a plan to make it clean and safe.

Shaun McAuliffe, a city health inspector, said officials first inspected the alley after a complaint about the Burrito Express restaurant on Bedford Street came in during the blizzard that hit Boston the second weekend in February. Firefighters responding to a call found rodents in the building’s boiler room, McAuliffe said, and were concerned they might be getting into the food.

“I came out here and found that the food wasn’t in jeopardy, but there was definitely a rodent issue within the building,” McAuliffe said. “You could hear them within the walls.”

McAuliffe said he believes rodents were able to gain access through a nearby sidewalk that is vaulted, meaning it has empty space beneath, and from there to enter into the foundation of the building. Burrito Express has since closed, he said, leaving the building’s owner with the responsibility for dealing with the vermin.

alley with Ky Nguyen.jpg
Jeremy C. Fox for
A city official spoke with a business owner.
John Meaney, the city’s director or environmental services, said inspectors also found several trash violations, blocked egresses, and drug use.

“Two of my inspectors doing routine inspections found people injecting drugs,” Meaney said.

“When we run across private alleyways that have sanitary violations, building code violations, fire code violations, and a lot of safety and health hazards, we want to get everybody involved to make sure that we get them up to code,” Meaney said. “’Out of sight, out of mind,’ doesn’t work for us.”

While the alley is privately owned, the owners have a legal obligation to keep the property clean and safe, Meaney said. Any breach of the city’s codes will generate a citation from the appropriate department.

Meaney said multi-faceted inspections like the one conducted Wednesday afternoon are part of the city’s effort to make downtown Boston safer and more livable for its increasing residential population.

“Downtown Boston’s changing. People are living here now,” Meaney said. “We have huge developments going on around the city where condos are going up.”

He said this is the fourth downtown alley the city has cleaned up in recent months, and the effort “has really made a huge a difference.”

Rick Goodenow is the executive multimedia director at UNregular Radio, a streaming online radio station that has its offices on Bedford Street, right next to the alley. Drug activity is common there, he said.

“Two days ago there were three people back her smoking crack, with a watch-guy by the door,” to the alley, Goodenow said. After he saw this drug use, he went upstairs and looked down into the alley from a window and was able to see people shooting intravenous drugs under their fingernails, he said.

Matt Tomor, production manager for the station, said the drug users are sometimes hostile to visitors who come to its offices.

“It would be one thing if people were coming in here being nice,” he said.

Rev. John Samaan, president of the Boston Rescue Mission, which also abuts the alley, said he has had few run-ins with the actual drug users.

“We don’t see the people as much, but we see the syringes,” he said. He said his staff cleans the alleyway and the sidewalk out front regularly and often finds drug paraphernalia.

The drug users are the same people returning again and again, Samaan said: a couple that sometimes brings a friend along with them.

In an effort to keep them out of the alley, Samaan said, the rescue mission had repaired the door on one end, but the lock on the other entry door is still broken. The mission has video cameras inside but not outside, he said, though it does have motion-activated lights in the alley.

He’s concerned about the effect the trespassers could have on clients in the rescue mission’s drug-free program, he said.

“Our clients are to trying to put their lives together, and the last thing I want is somebody that’s here at night doing drugs,” Samaan said. “The trouble is if it doesn’t stop, the flow will increase.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at
Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @YTDowntown.

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Shaun McAuliffe, a city health inspector, peered under a board with a flashlight.

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