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Boston authorities continue to clear Mass. and Cass, despite pushback

Workers were cleaning up the area near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston on Nov. 1.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Boston authorities continued to clear homeless encampments on Monday near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, although it was not immediately clear how many people were being transferred to treatment and shelters through city services.

On Monday afternoon, garbage trucks were moving slowly down Atkinson Street, which has been the heart of the opioid crisis and home to dozens of tents. Some living on Mass. and Cass were frustrated at the city for kicking them out of what they considered to be home. One woman, as she broke down a tent, said she had nothing good to say about the city’s efforts. She thought the local shelters simply did not want many of the people living on Mass. and Cass.


“It’s horrible,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “Kicking us out and they got nowhere to put us.”

Another woman who identified herself as J.J. had similar sentiments. She said she slept in the Newmarket area the previous night. She said she has a tent but was unsure where she was going to put it up Monday night. She’s been living on the streets for 10 years.

“Where’s everybody going to go?” she asked. “That’s the biggest thing.”

Last month, Boston officials signaled they would remove the sprawling encampment of tents, with Acting Mayor Kim Janey saying tents and temporary shelters would no longer be tolerated on public ways. The city has removed some tents in recent days.

Jim Stewart, a founding steering committee member for SIFMA Now!, a group that advocates for sites for safe consumption of drugs in the state, was on the scene Monday afternoon. He said people are not confident the city will hold their possessions in storage, adding that some may have possessions they need to stay healthy. Stewart was skeptical the city’s Mass. and Cass actions would help get people into more stable, healthy environments. Some people simply don’t want to stay in a congregate shelter in the middle of a pandemic, he said.


“All that’s being done is people are being disrupted and stigmatized more,” said Stewart, the director of the First Church Shelter in Cambridge. “There’s not going to be any good that comes out of this.”

On Monday, the sidewalks to Southampton Street, which was home to a minitent city over the summer, were free of such encampments. Weeks before, nearby Topeka Street, which was also home to an array of tents, had also been cleared. At one point, city authorities estimated there were 300 people living on the streets in the area.

Officials have emphasized they would not take a heavy-handed approach in the removal, saying they will not force anyone to move without being provided with an adequate alternative shelter. But the plan has been met with pushback.

One component of the broader city effort, to use the power of courts to steer people with outstanding warrants into treatment, has a mixed record. A special court recently convened had sent more people to jail than into treatment by the end of last week, fueling fears it would cause more harm than good to vulnerable people.

And the state’s ACLU chapter has filed a lawsuit asserting that city officials are unlawfully removing people from the Mass. and Cass encampment without identifying adequate housing options for them, often destroying their property in the process. Shelters, the ACLU complaint said, aren’t viable options for many people living at the encampment, due to their medical and family needs.


At the State House on Monday, another proposal was discussed that may be met with controversy among advocates. The legislation would allow an on-call judge, when the court is closed for business, to order a person to be committed to a facility designated by state public health authorities “if the court finds that the person is an individual with a substance use disorder and finds that there is a grave likelihood of serious harm as a result of the person’s substance use disorder.”

A release from the office of state Senator Nick Collins, a South Boston Democrat who is pushing the idea, said it “would allow for life saving interventions 24-7 instead of 8 a.m. — 4 p.m. Monday — Friday.”

The legislation is under review by the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery, according to Collins’s office.

Janey’s administration on Monday said last week’s removal of tents resulted in 13 people being placed in permanent and transitional housing, 21 people being placed in a shelter, and 32 people being placed in residential treatment.

“Those efforts have also resulted in the storage or removal of over two dozen tents from public streets and sidewalks,” said Janey 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.”


The city did not immediately have figures for the number of people sent to shelters, housing or treatment during Monday’s actions at Mass. and Cass. Boston police said one person was arrested Monday on outstanding warrant charges that included assault and battery, stalking, strangulation, and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon.

There was still a cluster of tents on Atkinson Street, which is home to the Southampton Street shelter, on Monday afternoon. Dozens milled about and people threw an array things into the back of garbage trucks as some of the encampments were broken down: tents, tarps, wood pallets, mattresses, a BMX bike, trash receptacles, a wicker chair, a futon frame. Some chose to drag their tents down the street to another location. Others were packing up their possessions into plastic bins. Yet others were trundling their things on dollies toward the Newmarket industrial park.

“Yo, is this trash?” yelled one city worker, gesturing toward a garbage bag.

Tonya Alanez, Travis Andersen, and Sahar Fatima of Globe staff contributed to this report.

Danny McDonald can be reached at Follow him @Danny__McDonald.