By Brian Li
FRAMINGHAM – During this budget season, our community has an urgent need and unique opportunity to advocate for the best resources to show-off a really welcoming downtown.
I urge you to think positively about the wonderful, hard-working business owners and residents who live, work, and play in our increasingly exciting urban area.
Please join me in demanding that your elected leaders effectively advocate and achieve improved public health results in Burkis Square (the intersection of Hollis and Irving streets).
As property manager of the Bullard Building at 12 Irving Street for the past six years, I support more than 18 businesses that generate jobs and create an enhanced quality of life for our community.
Despite Framingham’s high commercial tax rate, I have continuously invested in this property, installing a new roof and solar panels.
In partnership with the City of Framingham’s subsidy program, this year I’m installing 8 new signs and 8 new awnings to modernize the building’s façade.
As a community volunteer, I helped paint the Pearl Street Parking Garage and helped the Department of Public Works launch its commercial cardboard recycling pilot program.
I’ve grown to cherish the relationships I’ve forged with our City’s departments – from Fire to Police to DPW.
Like many cities across America, Framingham faces challenges related to the opioid epidemic and substance abuse, most notably in Burkis Square – where at-risk individuals often seek support from one another. Unfortunately, residual behaviors of this epidemic can overshadow the talent and decrease the revenues of our many minority-owned businesses that sustain our downtown’s vibrancy.
Last year alone, 189 police calls and 146 ambulance calls were placed to address medical and behavioral matters in Burkis Square.
Since 2013, discussions with area stakeholders have illuminated root causes and identified potential solutions. To address complex social issues with urgency, it’s important that we work collaboratively.
So, what can we do right now?
1) Contact your City Councilor to ensure the City will provide funding to the Public Health Department to hire two medically trained social workers who can conduct urgently needed outreach in Burkis Square.
With the City owning this initiative, our residents, business owners, and property owners can expect transparency and accountability for the overall goal of enhancing the welfare of this area.
Funds for this program could come through the City’s General Operating Budget or possibly from the City’s excess of $238,000 Community Development Block Grant funds (per City Council Finance Sub-Committee Meeting of April 24, 2019).
2) Identify drop-in shelters that are open all day to welcome individuals in need. Spaces tailored to support the challenges of the opioid crisis and substance abuse can drive better community results than public sidewalks or public parks, for example. If you know of a possible location, please contact your local City Councilor.
3) Encourage local City employees to support small businesses in Burkis Square. By developing a greater affinity for the area and its people, our local leaders will become even more passionate and act even more urgently to enhance this area for our entire community, especially for our children who ride local school buses.
4) Continue to support the short-staffed Framingham Police Department as it works to care for this area.
The presence of police vehicles in Burkis Square has symbolized danger, when in fact, the area is relatively safe. Let’s make Burkis Square known for its safety in 2019!
Last, as a Board Director of Downtown Framingham, Inc., I would like to applaud DFI’s Public Health Intern, Quinton Lang, for putting together a comprehensive hand-out containing information on basic resources, including food, shelter, and mental health support.
As someone who has donated food and clothing, and even provided small gigs to individuals spending time near my building, I write this letter from a place of compassion. Downtown Framingham’s Central Business District is an amazing, safe place, and by really taking care of one another, we can fully demonstrate this for all our community members. Please pause now and contact your local City Councilors here to demand these 4 positive recommendations. We’ve waited long enough!
Brian Li is the property manager of the Bullard Building in downtown Framingham. He is a also a member of the Board of Directors for Framingham Downtown Inc.