Boston announces new plan to rid city of homeless encampment, get residents help

BOSTON (AP) — Police would be given the power to remove tents and other makeshift shelters at a Boston intersection that's become home to a sprawling encampment for the homeless, many of whom struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse disorder, Mayor Michelle Wu and other city officials announced Friday.

The plan also calls for a new short-term shelter for up to 30 people in the area known as Mass and Cass.

The encampment at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard has become a haven for drug use and has become increasingly violent, according to law enforcement.

“No one is being served living in a crowded and dangerous encampment, visited by hundreds of people engaged in drug trafficking and violence," Wu said.

The proposal allowing police to remove tents requires city council approval. Wu said she would file an ordinance with the council Monday.

No tents would be taken down before the people living in them have been offered adequate housing, the treatment services they need, transportation, and a place to store their personal belongings, city officials said.

“Over the past few weeks, the situation on the ground at Mass and Cass has made it impossible for the (Boston Public Health Commission) and our partners to adequately provide critical services to those in need," said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, the city's commissioner of public health. "Things need to change, and this ordinance is a necessary step to get the situation under control.”

It would apply not just to Mass and Cass, but the entire city, so the problem does not just relocate, police Commissioner Michael Cox said. Police will deploy mobile units and will have a presence in the area at all times.

“We are going to be in every neighborhood with these mobile teams to make sure this does not occur,” Cox said.

In addition to the 30 temporary beds at the Boston Public Health Commission’s campus on Massachusetts Avenue, the city is also expanding low-threshold shelter space at its emergency shelters.

Homelessness has long been an issue in the neighborhood. In January 2022, after notifying people living in the area, city public works employees driving bulldozers loaded tents, tarps and other detritus, including milk crates, wooden pallets and coolers, into trash trucks to be hauled away.

Since then, more than 500 people who were living at the encampment have gone through the city’s six low-threshold housing sites, and 149 have moved into permanent housing, city officials said.

In recent years, cities across the nation, including Los Angeles, Washington and Phoenix , have been struggling with clearing tent encampments while caring for the people who live in them.