Acting Mayor Kim Janey vowed to end encampments around the area near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, promising to find shelter for those staying in tents but to forcibly remove people unwilling to comply with the city's efforts.
"Tents are not appropriate for housing," Janey said in a press conference Tuesday. "They lack clean water and adequate hygiene facilities. Even more concerning, these tents have become the site of infectious diseases, sexual assaults, human trafficking, potential overdoses and violence."
Janey's executive order says the city will enforce existing laws to prevent the placement and maintenance of "these encampments," including tents and other temporary shelters, in the area.
"Some individuals may refuse help that they've been offered, and in this instance enforcement will be used, but only as a last resort," Janey said. "And even then, we are working with the District Attorney's Office and the courts to ensure that enforcement itself is a pathway to services, treatment and shelter."
Janey said the city won't remove any tents until it first notifies the owner and finds alternate housing.
The acting mayor also cited other priorities, including "clear and clean streets and walkways," and increased crime prevention.
The announcement sparked immediate criticism from advocates. Cassie Hurd, executive director of the Material Aid and Advocacy Program, said the order is more about getting rid of the encampment than improving the health of its inhabitants.
"Though it outright claims otherwise, the core of Mayor Janey's executive order is both criminalization and coercion of unhoused people and people who use drugs," Hurd said. "... It's the disappearing of unhoused people by any means necessary under the guise of public safety and public health."
The order will also establish a "central command center" for city and state outreach workers to engage with the denizens of Mass. and Cass, which has become the epicenter of the region's opioid addiction crisis.
Already this year, Janey said the city's Office of Recovery Services has made 6,000 referrals to services in the area, and continues to "reverse four to five overdoses a day."
The acting mayor said the growing number of tents in the area makes it harder to offer services and treatment options to people there.
"These tents have become places where women are being assaulted, where people are potentially overdosing, and it is hard for outreach teams," Janey said.