No new tents, Wu says ahead of Mass and Cass enforcement push

Boston is ready to work with the people currently living at the corner of Mass and Cass when an ordinance banning camping there goes into effect, but the tents will come down, the city’s mayor reiterated this weekend.

Residents there now have been notified of the new rule in several languages, according to the Mayor Michelle Wu. Any newcomers will be met by a coordinated team of social workers and law enforcement who will inform them new tents “won’t be able to go up.”

“And if it is up, it will be asked to be taken down,” Wu told WCVB.

The tent and tarp shelters now set at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, also known as Methadone Mile, will be struck starting November 1, when an amended version of Wu’s anti-camping ordinance takes effect.

The plan is not to leave the dozens of people living there now, many of whom are struggling with drug or alcohol addictions or mental health conditions, with nowhere to go, Wu said. With city staff on the ground at Mass and Cass for 24-hours a day for months now, they know precisely who needs help, she said.

“There is no magic wand in a very complex, long-standing challenge that cities around the country are facing with the opiate crisis, homelessness, mental health, but we know that in Boston we have a very good sense of, not only who it is that needs services, but also how to most effectively connect people with those services,” Wu said.

The rampant drug use, violence and homelessness plaguing the intersection has been a blight on Wu’s administration that she inherited from former Mayor Marty Walsh. The problem persisted despite efforts to connect people living there — between 80 and 90 on any given day, down from close to 200 — with social services.

Wu’s plan to solve the problem is three-pronged. The ordinance allowing police to remove tents and tarps is the first step, followed by connection them with housing and other services.

The last is what Police Commissioner Michael Cox described as a “heavy” police presence.

“We want to make it clear to the people who come to the city with a different intent, whether it’s to sell drugs or criminality, or to victimize the people that are in these areas, we’re not going to allow that,” Cox said.

People at Mass and Cass will be offered a ride to temporary housing, but will not be allowed to camp there any longer. The tents and tarps they use for shelter, Wu’s team said when announcing the ordinance, are also used to hide drug use and other crime.

City Council President Ed Flynn told the Herald he has communicated with the Mayor over his desire to see a “zero tolerance” approach at Mass and Cass.

“We have rules in place, and people need to follow the rules,” Flynn told the Herald Friday. “If they break criminal laws, they need to be arrested and prosecuted.”

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