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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, May 24, 2024

Wu administration resumes tent removal at 'Mass. and Cass' after previously pausing Janey-era initiative

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is pictured.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration has resumed the clearing of the houseless encampment around the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, also known as "Mass. and Cass," after previously pausing the initiative begun by then-acting Mayor Kim Janey's administration. The stoppage came after courts denied a request by the ACLU to halt the tent removal project. Wu has also appointed officials and made statements addressing her administration's plans for the tent city.

Mass. and Cass, also commonly referred to by names like “Methadone Mile,” is known as the heart of Boston's opioid crisis. The tent city is also emblematic of the city’s houselessness crisis and poses health and safety risks to its residents. 

Janey issued an executive order to clear out the Mass. and Cass tent city on Oct. 19, prior to Wu's taking office. The order said that no one would be required to vacate the tent city without first being offered alternative shelter, but those who repeatedly refused to leave their tents may be charged with disorderly conduct and warrant the involvement of the Boston Police. 

"As nighttime temperatures dip below freezing last week, City outreach workers have helped over 60 unsheltered people get off the street and into in-patient treatment beds, shelter beds, transitional housing beds and other areas of support,” Janey said in a statement. “As we transition vulnerable people from encampments that have been a source of violence, fires, disease and other dangers, we will continue to treat every individual with dignity. This work is urgent, but should not be confused with 'sweeps' conducted in years past. No person is required to remove or store their tent before shelter, housing, or treatment is available.”

Many of the tents at Mass. and Cass were cleared by the city under Janey’s executive order, but some have been set up a few blocks away at Newmarket Square.

The ACLU of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the city in early November, alleging that their plaintiffs, along with other residents of Mass. and Cass, were not provided the alternative housing options that the city promised. 

“In spite of City officials’ suggestions that housing would be provided, the plaintiffs and others were driven out—under threat of arrest—with no viable housing options,” the ACLU said in a press release on its website. “Much of their personal property was summarily destroyed, leaving them without access to clothing and even vital papers such as their identification.”

The lawsuit was sent to the Suffolk County Superior Court on Nov. 10 for expedited review. Fast response time to the issue of the encampment has generally been motivated by impending cold temperatures.

“Particularly as winter approaches, already unsafe living conditions on the streets will only become more dangerous,” a spokesperson from Mayor Wu's office said in an email to the Daily.

On Wu’s first full day in office on Nov. 17, she told the press that any action on Mass. and Cass was paused as they awaited the court’s decision. The administration has since decided to resume plans to clear the area of tents. 

However, on the same day, the Suffolk County Superior Court denied the ACLU’s request to issue a restraining order that would stop the clearing of Mass. and Cass, a decision that would allow the new administration to continue the project. 

Wu’s administration has chosen officials to head up the response to the crisis. 

“Mayor Wu’s team, led by Dr. Monica Bharel, will be urgently working with regional and state partners to take a holistic approach to the public health and housing crisis near the intersection of Mass. Ave and Melnea Cass Blvd, with a focus on expanding low-threshold and permanent housing, treatment and support services,” a spokesperson for the mayor said in an email to the Daily.

Bharel is the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and helped coordinate the state's pandemic response. Wu has also reappointed Sheila Dillon, ​​the city’s chief of housing and director of neighborhood development.  

The ACLU has stated that it will continue to monitor the city’s actions in regards to Mass. and Cass.

“Our new mayor said just this morning that she is contemplating a new approach to this,” Ruth Bourquin, senior and managing attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement on Nov. 17. “And yet here in court today, representations were made that the City does not have housing options that are appropriate for many of our clients who cannot use congregate shelters. Steps are underway to create those housing options, and we call upon the City to continue the pause and not force people under threat of arrest to leave where they are unless and until they have a housing option that takes into account their disabilities and other barriers.

On Dec. 3, the Boston Globe reported that Wu's administration would resume the tent removal process, and that those living in the encampment would be relocated to as many as 200 transitional housing units across Boston. Wu hopes to clear the area entirely by the end of the month.