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Judge denies ACLU’s bid to halt Mass. and Cass cleanup

Crews working to clear the Boston area known as Mass. and Cass earlier this month.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

A judge on Wednesday denied a bid by the ACLU to halt Boston’s cleanup of a sprawling tent encampment.

The ACLU of Massachusetts had argued in Superior Court that the removals are unconstitutional and violated property rights of those who are being displaced.

But Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders declined to issue a temporary restraining order.

“These encampments have become a public health and public safety threat,” Sanders said in court Wednesday.

The ruling came hours after Mayor Michelle Wu said the city is “pausing the removals” while the lawsuit is pending.

In a lawsuit filed this month, the ACLU asks that tent dwellers who were removed be allowed to return and seeks damages for three plaintiffs whose property was destroyed in the area known as Mass. and Cass.

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The ACLU also objected to the city dislocating people who live in the encampment “without first identifying viable alternative housing options for them.”

The suit named then-acting mayor Kim Janey, faulting her administration’s ongoing efforts, launched last month, to clear the encampment near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard and move the homeless population to shelters.

The complaint says shelters are not viable options for many people living at the encampment for a host of reasons ranging from drug and alcohol use to medical and family needs.

But the city maintains that it is taking a “public health approach” and says dozens of people have been steered into alternative housing and treatment since the tent removals began.

Boston officials said earlier this month they have helped 66 people find alternative housing; of those, 13 people chose transitional or permanent housing, 21 chose shelters, and 32 residential treatment. As of Monday, 16 tents on a stretch of Southampton Street had been removed.

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An estimated 300 people lived in the encampment at one time, according to a recent city survey.

“We are working hard to match the individual needs of the people who are living on the streets, living in tents, with the appropriate treatment and shelter options available,” Janey said.


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.