Boston Mayor Michelle Wu filed an ordinance Monday that bans tents from the area of the city known as "Mass. and Cass," which has seen rising homelessness and drug use, and gives police explicit authority to remove tents.
The Boston City Council is expected to take up the measure Wednesday. The ordinance prohibits temporary structures such as tents from public areas in the city, including near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
Dozens of tents and tarps now line nearby Atkinson Street, which has been barricaded because of the encampment. Wu said violence in the area of the encampment has become increasingly common and the city's police officers should have explicit authority to remove tents — after those occupying them have been offered shelter.
In a letter to city councilors accompanying the ordinance, Wu said the temporary structures "have been shielding much of the dangerous activity in the area and undermining the ability of providers to safely and effectively deliver services." She also said, "Boston police would have the authority to enforce on the condition that individuals are offered shelter and transportation to services, as well as storage for personal belongings."
If the City Council approves the ordinance, signs would be posted notifying people in the encampment that temporary structures would have to be removed in 48 hours. If someone fails to remove a tent or relocates it elsewhere, the ordinance allows for non-criminal citations and fines of $25.
In a statement, Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said, "Everyone deserves to be safe and treated with humanity, regardless of whether they have stable housing." She said she welcomes the city expanding its public health and housing approach to Mass. and Cass, and noted the ACLU will continue to monitor the situation "to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are not violated in the execution and enforcement of any ordinance."
In January 2022, the mayor had the city clear tents from the area and created more housing for those who had been living on the streets. Wu said that since then, more than 500 people have been served at the city's housing sites and 149 people "have achieved the stability, health and recovery to move on to permanent housing."
The council has 60 days to consider the ordinance.
On Friday, Wu announced her new strategy to deal with the tent encampment. It includes creating 30 temporary shelter beds at a building on Massachusetts Avenue and moving the city's Engagement Center there as well, providing services to those who are homeless or addicted.
Under the plan, Wu said, Atkinson Street will reopen to vehicle traffic. The South End Forum, a group of neighbors near Mass. and Cass, wrote a letter to city councilors last week opposing the temporary beds and expressing concerns that allowing police to remove tents will result in the encampment moving to other areas of the city.
This article was originally published on August 28, 2023.