By Ginger DeShaney
One mother’s love has sparked an online community that offers support and comfort to families with loved ones on Mass & Cass.
Dawn Cobb started the Facebook page “Missing on Mass Ave” at the end of October as a group where family and friends can post about their loved ones who are believed to be missing or haven’t been heard from in the Mass Ave. area of Boston. There are already more than 6,500 members, which shows the great need for a page like this.
This group is really special, said page administrator Brianna Kelley: “And it’s even more special how it was formed. It just took one mother’s pain and suffering and devotion to not only try to help her own son, but to help other people. It shows so much about her character that she was going through something and she decided to make a page to try and help other people, other family members and their parents. That shows so much of who Dawn is as a woman.”
Dawn, whose son Brandon is on Mass & Cass, said the page’s community, which includes family members, those on Mass & Cass, and people from all walks of life, really came together and made the page what it is now. “I was just a small piece to it,” she said. “I laid the foundation and it grew from their help. I honestly wouldn’t know what to do without the page now.”
Brandon, who has been dealing with substance-abuse issues for the last 10 years, made his way to Mass Ave. from Fall River more than a year ago.
“He was kind of keeping in touch here and there,” Dawn said. “It got to a point where a month had gone by and, as a parent’s worst nightmare, I was devastated. I needed to know if he was OK and where he was.”
She found the Mass Ave. Project on Facebook in the summer and posted his photo on that page, and within 16 hours he called her. “Somebody had recognized him and he called me the next day.” Brandon, 26, is currently at St. Francis House and keeps in touch with his mom regularly.
In October, Dawn thought: “You know what? This is something I need to do for me and all the other parents. I didn’t realize how big of a thing it actually was until this group started.”
She posted on the Mass Ave. Project page to see what people thought if she were to make a page for the people who are missing on Mass Ave. or who aren’t making contact with their families. The response was wonderful, she said. To help spread the word, she posted about and tagged her page on other pages. “It really just blew up from me doing that,” she said.
Almost every day Dawn and Brianna are approving at least 30-plus requests to join the page, which is private.
“I think it goes to show the beauty of a community like that where you can just share openly about pain and struggle and know that you’re not alone and are loved and heard,” Brianna said. “It goes to show how devastating the situation is down there, how important it is for the situation to be heard and shown and seen. And the page just keeps growing and I think it just proves the strength that having a community like the one that Dawn has set up; it’s just so important.”
People will post photos of their loved ones, asking if anyone has seen them, or asking people to pass along messages to call home.
“All eyes are out there,” Dawn said, noting there are bus drivers, nurses, outreach workers, other addicts, and all walks of life letting people on the page know they’ve seen their loved ones.
“We’re all like a huge community now,” said Dawn, who lives in Rhode Island and is a school bus driver after working with the Alzheimer’s population for 20 years. “We’re all there to help one another and be supportive.”
Dawn, 47, and Brianna, 30, are grateful this group has become a family. “You can come and post your missing loved ones, your success in recovery, your need for help, your feelings and emotions of what you’re dealing with,” Dawn said. “We all come together and support. No matter the race, culture, lifestyle, rich or poor … there is no judgment.”
Brianna’s son’s father, TJ, has been on Mass Ave. for about a year. At the end of October, he had stopped making contact with family. So Brianna, who lives on Cape Cod, posted a photo of him on another Mass Ave. page. Dawn shared the post on the Missing on Mass Ave page and Brianna found her son’s dad in about 24 hours. Unfortunately, he is not in touch regularly.
When Dawn asked Brianna to become an admin for the page, she readily agreed. “It’s become something that I’m passionate about,” Brianna said. Dawn’s siblings, Stephen Gardella and Danielle Ray, are also admins.
Dawn and Brianna do a lot more than approve requests to join the group. They keep in close contact with the family members who post. “We do a really good job at making sure they feel comfortable and heard and loved,” Brianna said, noting they will help connect families to outreach workers, and they update posts on the page. “We’ve become a really tight-knit community on that page.”
Dawn and Brianna have high praise for the outreach workers at Mass & Cass, many of whom are members of the page. “Our outreach workers that help work down there are second to none,” Brianna said, noting they work tirelessly. “They’re incredible. They just do such beautiful work down there.”
Dawn and Brianna are also grateful for the Engagement Center, which helps with food, clothes, toiletry items, snacks, cellphone charging stations, resources, and more, and Project Turnabout, which provides help with housing, sober homes, detox, phones, and bus fares.
The page brings a lot of peace when families are able to reunite or a mom gets to hear her kid’s voice for the first time in weeks or months or years, Brianna said. “There’s a lot of good that happens. And that’s why I’m a part of it, because on days that are not happy for me, that are not good for me emotionally, a parent will text me and say, ‘so and so just called,’ and it’ll just kind of bring me back to why I’m advocating and doing what I’m doing with Dawn.”
Some of the page members that had previously been down on Mass Ave. are now clean and sober and working on their lives in recovery, and they share their stories. “And that’s been really incredible,” said Brianna, who is in recovery for a little over four years, is a stay-at-home mom, and is going to school full time to study criminal justice. “It’s incredible for the family members to be able to see that, to know that it is possible to get out of there alive.
“To see success stories like that is really special and really beautiful. That’s another really cool thing about our page; not only do we post about missing people but we also have inspirational stories that it’s possible, that recovery is possible.”
The page has created friendships among members who otherwise wouldn’t have met each other, Brianna said. Outreach workers make connections, moms connect with each other, parents connect with each other, and they communicate on their own time and space about things. “I think that’s really special, too. Sometimes people don’t always like to be public about things and post so much in that aspect, and so if they can connect with somebody personally, that’s really special, too.”
Added Brianna, this page “not only helped save my peace of mind, but I think it brings a lot of peace of mind to other family members that are going through the same thing as myself and Dawn. We’re not alone in the fight of loving an addict, let alone loving one that’s homeless in this scary situation.”
Search for “Missing on Mass Ave” on Facebook and request to join. “The more eyes, the better,” Dawn said.
Tent Cleanup Caused Worry for Group
When the tents came down as part of Mayor Michelle Wu’s Mass & Cass cleanup efforts, people on the Missing on Mass Ave Facebook page were scared.
“We know what needs to be done there,” page founder Dawn Cobb said. “People can’t continue to live that way. But the frightening thing was we have such a community down there that it’s like, ‘OK, now what’s going to happen? How are we going to have eyes on them? Where will they go?’ ”
Brianna Kelley, an admin on the page, was a little nervous, too. “When you displace them, it made me nervous to not know where my significant other had gone. I know from helping run the page that that was a big concern for a lot of parents and family members. Everyone was scrambling to find out what the names of the hotels were that [Mayor Wu] was putting them into.”
So far a lot of people have been placed in homes and shelters. “We’ve heard great things from people down there … that things are going OK,” Dawn said.
“The one thing I think that worried me was because Mass & Cass has been that way for such a long time, they’ve really set up outreach down there,” Brianna said. “So when you kind of displaced them into different hotels, they no longer have access to those readily available [resources].”
But people are still gathering there, partly because of the resources that have been set up there, but also because that’s what’s safe to them, that’s what they’ve known, Brianna said. And, unfortunately, that’s where the drugs are.
Brianna said that the people at Mass & Cass create their own tight-knit communities to look after each other and if somebody goes down, somebody else is right there to help.
Brianna said the cleanup efforts came from a good place and it’s a good first step. “But I think more needs to be done. I think people are down there for many reasons, but I think a lot of people struggle with mental health issues on top of substance-abuse issues.
“And so finding them housing and things like that is incredible, and I think the work has been incredible,” Brianna said, but she noted that the underlying issues are much greater than just finding shelter.
Brianna said she’s not exactly sure what the city’s next step should be, but she does know that there needs to be more readily available detox beds because the waiting lists are way too long.
Massachusetts Detox Bed List
If you or a loved one is struggling, please reach out. Help is available.NOTE: The Information here is based on information on the MABHACCESS website. This list is to be used as a guide only. Please contact the facility directly to verify bed availability.
Andrew House Boston/Jamaica Plain
170 Morton St., 4th floor, South
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Andrew House Stoughton
909 Sumner Street
Stoughton, MA 02072
Behavioral Health Network Greenfield
298 Federal Street
Greenfield, MA 01301
Gender: Female only
Carlson Recovery Unit
471 Chestnut Street
Springfield, MA 01107
Gender: Men only Community Healthlink – CHL – Worcester
12 Queen Street
Worcester, MA 01610
Gender: All Dimock Community Health Roxbury
55 Dimock Street
Roxbury, MA 02119
Gender: AllGavin Foundation (formerly Phoenix House)
43 Old Colony Ave.
Quincy, MA 02170
200 Ter Heun Drive
Falmouth, MA 02540
Gender: AllHigh Point Treatment Center
1233 State Road
Plymouth, MA 02360
Gender: AllBerkshire Medical Center / McGee Unit
725 North Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
413-445-9463Meadowbrook Brockton Campus/Men’s Addiction Treatment Center
(also Section 35 facility)
30 Meadowbrook Road
Brockton, MA 02301
1233 Main Street
Holyoke, MA 01040
Northeast Behavioral Health – Danvers
111 Middleton Road.
Danvers, MA 01923
861 Main Street
Weymouth, MA 02190
154 Oak Street
Westborough, MA 01581
508-898-1570 x 8168
386 Stanley Street
Fall River, MA 02720
Northeast Behavioral Tewksbury
365 East Street
Tewksbury, MA 01876
978-259-7021, option 1
1183 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01603
508-834-8599 option 1