You never really know what you’re getting into with a rail removal job. We experienced just such thing recently when we traveled to Brockton, Massachusetts. Brockton is a city of around 100,000 directly south of Boston.
The job was relatively straightforward – two miles of track in and around an abandoned CSX rail yard. The area had been dubbed “Tent City” by the locals, as it had become the de facto housing complex for homeless people, many of whom also struggled with addiction.
Upon first approach, the ground seemed to glow with an odd yellow-orange hue. Getting closer, we realized that this was caused by the discarded tops of used Narcan containers. Narcan, or naloxone, is used as a treatment for opioid overdose, which blocks the effects of drugs like heroin. Littered among the Narcan tops were thousands of used syringe needles.
If you’ve read a paper, watched the news, or surfed the web in the past few years, you know that the opioid problem is everywhere. Use of opioids, which include drugs like heroin, morphine, and codeine, and prescription pills like hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxycodone (Percocet), have reached epidemic proportion in the U.S., resulting in over 42,000 deaths in 2016 alone.
As you might imagine, we were quite concerned about the working environment in the area. Not only would we need to exercise extreme caution in this environment because of the needles and the mounds of human waste left by residents, we were concerned about the people there.
A little bit before we began the job, Brockton City officials made the decision to close Tent City. The increasing rate of fires, fights and drug overdoses had made conditions too unsafe. Local homeless advocates and social service providers went into the area in the days prior to its destruction to offer residents space in local homeless shelters and rehab at drug treatment agencies.
Soon after, a company came in and removed most of the trash and waste, and then we followed to remove the rail.
In this particular experience, our role was simple, but it did leave us with many questions. Did these homeless people go to the local shelters? If not, where did they end up? Did those struggling with addiction seek help?
We will likely never learn the answers, but we do know that the problems of addiction and homelessness are very real for every community. To learn more about how you can help combat these issues, contact your local County agency.