A day after the historic election of Michelle Wu, advocates called on the mayor-elect to stop clearing encampments in the area know as Mass. and Cass that is the heart of Boston’s opioid and homelessness crises.
A coalition of public health, housing, and civil rights advocates urged Wu to “stop the sweeps and meet basic sanitation needs while developing immediate non-congregate shelter options.”
The group said in a statement that it wants city authorities to recognize that “requiring tent removal of the area will cause displacement from services, belongings, peers, medical providers, temporary shelters, and more. The city should meet basic needs for people living in encampments until people have access to housing.”
A new court for people arrested in the vicinity of a sprawling homeless encampment in Boston began hearing cases Monday, as city workers cleared an estimated 15 to 20 tents as part of an operation that is expected to continue over several weeks.
The city has said that the special court was needed because many of the people living in the encampments are medically compromised and it would be difficult to transport them to other courts.
But the move has attracted criticism from lawyers and advocates who say it is ill-advised and harmful to those living on the streets.
On Wednesday, the Public Health & Human Rights for Mass and Cass Coalition said in a statement, “Public health crises require public health solutions.”
“We support a plan that treats people with dignity, that meets people’s stated needs in the short and long term, and that relies on evidence-based practices of low threshold housing, voluntary treatment, and harm reduction, not involuntary commitment and criminalization which risk even more death.”
The coalition includes Massachusetts Society of Addiction Medicine, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, BMC Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard, and Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University, among other programs and experts.
In addition to a cessation of clearing the encampments, the coalition wants the city to establish “non-congregate shelter and low threshold transitional housing similar to what was done during the COVID pandemic using FEMA funds” and to “rapidly increase targeted voluntary treatment offerings.”
Wu has said that Mass. and Cass will be among her immediate priorities as mayor. She has pledged to perform an audit within her first 100 days in office to identify city-owned land or facilities on which to quickly build supportive housing to alleviate the housing crisis that is concentrating people in the area.
Wu, at a City Hall news conference Wednesday, said Boston needs to lead with a public health approach regarding Mass. and Cass and said she plans to have a Cabinet-level position that will oversee the city’s response to the overlapping crises of addiction, mental health, and homelessness.
“Every day that goes by we get closer to winter and life or death temperatures for anyone who is on the streets,” she said. ”We will continue to be working closely to connect residents with services, with treatment, but very urgently to establish that . . . low threshold housing.”
Wu takes the oath of office on Nov. 16. She cruised to victory Tuesday night, capping a historic mayoral race by defeating her City Council colleague, Annissa Essaibi George, by nearly 30 points, according to the city’s unofficial returns.