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Boston mayor announces plan to prevent another tent encampment at 'Mass. and Cass'

In this WBUR file photo, two construction trucks remove a pile of debris from the tent encampment near the so-called "Mass. and Cass' area in January 2022. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
In this WBUR file photo, two construction trucks remove a pile of debris from the tent encampment near the so-called "Mass. and Cass' area in January 2022. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu released new plans to improve public safety amid rising concerns about crime and violence in an area of the city known as "Mass. and Cass" months after the city dismantled a large tent encampment there.

Wu said Tuesday a core goal of her "comprehensive warm weather" plan is to prevent another encampment from forming this summer near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. The area features several social services agencies and is often called "the epicenter of the region's opioid epidemic."

"We reiterate the need for partnership across the state and the region as we seek to expand temporary and permanent supportive housing beyond Boston," Wu told reporters Tuesday. "Additionally, we are looking to decentralize these services and ensure resources are available across our communities, not just in one part of the city."

Her plan, she said, will reduce crowds, deploy outreach teams to clean up city streets and focus on improving health outcomes for the people who frequent the area, many of whom are struggling with homelessness and mental health and substance use disorders.

Wu also said the city-run engagement center on Atkinson Street, which operated as a day center, will not reopen fully. It had been a place where people could use restrooms and showers, get food and access services and referrals to treatment. The center has been closed for three weeks after police responded to several violent incidents.

"Now that the safety protocols have been implemented, the engagement center will be open on a limited basis for the delivery of medical and social services," Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said. "However, the engagement center will not be opening as a day space."

Ojikutu added that while the center is closed, outreach teams and clinical care will be available to people seeking support. And, she said the city will work to open several other spaces farther from "Mass. and Cass" that allow people to drop in during the day and access services. She said transportation to those services will be made available.

Area business leaders recently complained crowds were returning to the neighborhood this spring, and vagrancy remained an issue. They said the concentration of services in the area attracts people who need help, as well as predatory drug dealers and human traffickers. During a recent visit, dozens of people were seen openly using drugs.

Lt. Peter Messina, with the Boston police outreach unit, said in the past week there were 16 arrests in the area, and 21 people were summonsed to court.

Messina said Wu's plan will increase police and enforcement in the area and ensure a uniform approach to illegal activity.

"We will continue with consistent, centralized messaging by all law enforcement agencies operating in the area to change the overall perception of the area regarding what is allowed and what is not allowed," Messina said. "This consistent messaging not only will assist law enforcement, but will also assist the community because it will highlight that the Boston Police Department will not stand for the continued disregard for the law and the continued decay of the neighborhood."

The mayor said more than 200 people were placed in housing after the city finalized the removal of the encampment last January.

Related:

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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