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Special court for Mass. and Cass to be discontinued Monday

A man who identified himself as L.J. stood outside his makeshift tent on Atkinson Street near the intersection known as Mass. and Cass the day that Mayor Michelle Wu said the city would pause removal of tents in the area.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Starting Monday, state judicial authorities will discontinue using a special court set up earlier this month in a local jail to process cases of those arrested in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, which is the heart of the city’s opioid crisis.

“Given the low case volume at the Community Response Session, the Trial Court has made the decision to discontinue the session,” said Jennifer Donahue, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Trial Court in a Friday e-mail. “The Boston Municipal Court will continue to communicate and collaborate with the city of Boston and state agencies to expand services to those court-involved individuals in need of services in every division of the Boston Municipal Court.”

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The court, which started sessions in early November, was part of then-acting mayor Kim Janey’s executive order to remove tents from city streets. Sessions were conducted at the South Bay House of Correction campus.

Officials previously said the special court was set up because many of the people living in the Mass. and Cass tents were medically compromised and it would be difficult to transport them to other courts. The tent encampment sits outside the front door of the South Bay campus.

The court heard 17 cases since it started Nov. 1, according to the Trial Court. Of that group, six people were held in custody, and 11 people were released. Of those who were released, four went to voluntary treatment.

GBH first reported the news of the end of the special court.

That development marks another shift in how the intersecting crises at Mass. and Cass are being handled by local authorities, coming on the heels of Mayor Michelle Wu’s stating that the city is pausing the removal of tents from Mass. and Cass. Wu officially started her mayoral tenure Tuesday.

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Critics have blasted the city’s recent approach to clearing the streets around Mass. and Cass of encampments as inhumane and ill-advised.

The ACLU of Massachusetts, which filed a lawsuit against the city earlier this month, had argued in Superior Court that the removals are unconstitutional and violated property rights of those being displaced.

That organization objects to the city dislocating people who live in the encampment “without first identifying viable alternative housing options for them,” and argues that the city’s actions have often destroyed people’s property in the process.

Homeless shelters, the ACLU has said in court documents, aren’t viable options for many people living at the encampment, due to their medical and family needs.

During the court hearing Wednesday, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders declined to issue a temporary restraining order that would have ceased the clearing of the ramshackle shelters.

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

But that ruling may be moot, as Wu on Wednesday said that the city planned on pausing the removal of tents at Mass. and Cass. Her administration has not said when or if the clearing of the encampments will start back up again.

The mini-tent city popped up in recent months in an area that is home to a cluster of social services, including homeless shelters, Boston Medical Center, and at least two methadone clinics.

Earlier this year, authorities estimated that about 300 people were living in the encampments at one point. Multiple overdoses became a daily reality and reports of street violence and theft were commonplace. What to do with the complex problems of the humanitarian crisis has become one of the city’s most pressing political questions.

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Last month, Boston officials said they would remove the sprawling encampment, with then-acting mayor Janey declaring the temporary shelters would no longer be tolerated on public ways. The city has removed dozens of tents in recent weeks, but dozens remained in the area as of Wednesday.

On Thursday, a Wu spokeswoman said city outreach workers during the previous three weeks helped place 126 people in addiction treatment programs and 16 people in transitional and permanent housing.

Tonya Alanez of Globe staff contributed to this report.






Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.