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Wu says Engagement Center near 'Mass. and Cass' will operate on 'limited basis'

Although its been open for just a few months, Boston's Engagement Center in the so-called "Mass. and Cass" area of the city will now be operating on a limited basis, according to Mayor Michelle Wu.

Wu told WBUR's Radio Boston Monday that crowds have returned to the area near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard after a large homeless tent encampment was removed. Wu said the crowds have created a public safety issue.

"We continue to see with the warming weather, large crowds gathering, and that has been difficult for public safety," Wu said. "It's been difficult because there are other issues that are connected to crowds."

Last month, the center was closed for five days after reports of a series of stabbings and other crime in the area. No one was seriously hurt. The center has not operated at full capacity since then.

The center opened in December in a building on Atkinson Street. In March, workers said they were serving about 300 people a day, providing restrooms, showers, food and referrals to other programs to help with housing, mental health and addiction.

Previously, similar services were offered in a large tent that the city had put up on the same block. Many of those seeking services at the center had lived in the large homeless tent encampment on the nearby streets that the Wu administration dismantled in January.

The mayor said that she is looking to decentralize services in the "Mass. and Cass" area and transport people seeking help to other programs.

"We're working very quickly on that and want to make sure that, in all parts of the city, there's safety and that we can begin to expand the access and decentralize," Wu said.

Nearby business leaders have long asked that the city and state offer in other locations to prevent a repeat of the crowds that came to the area for services and essentially camped there. Some area businesses owners reported increased crime and vandalism once the spring weather arrived and expressed concern about more people lingering in the area once the weather got warmer.

The area is home to methadone clinics, various detox and addiction treatment programs and homeless shelters. At one point, hundreds of people were living in the tent encampment last summer. Wu said the city has placed 180 people from the encampment into housing.

The mayor's office said outreach workers continue to connect those in the neighborhood with services and transportation.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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