Boston City Council passes Wu's ordinance banning tent encampments

The Boston City Council on Wednesday passed an ordinance banning tents and encampments in the city.

The measure is aimed at clearing the area known as "Mass and Cass," which has seen increasing drug use and homelessness. Under the rule, the city cannot remove a tent until people living there have been offered an alternative shelter space.

"I don't think that this is ultimately going to be the solution," Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune said before the vote. "But can it be part of what's getting us there? I believe so."

The ordinance was originally proposed by Mayor Michelle Wu. It bans people from setting up tents and tarps on public property. It also requires city workers to offer temporary storage for people's belongings before clearing an encampment.

The version the council passed Wednesday eliminated a proposed $25 fee for violating the ordinance, mandates that the city perform a daily audit of available shelter space and requires the city to offer people transportation.

If shelters are full on any given day, tents would be allowed to stand.

Councilors voted 9-3 to pass the measure, with At-Large Councilor Julia Mejia voting "present." Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara voted against it, saying involuntary displacement could cause more harm than good.

"The sweeps and clearing of encampments have failed in every single city that has attempted this," Arroyo said.

Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker blasted the ordinance from the other end of the ideological spectrum, arguing that people should be required to seek treatment before receiving housing.

"This is handcuffing us into housing-first," he said. "It has to be treatment first."

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Boston two years ago, after Acting Mayor Kim Janey ordered police to clear tents from the area around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. A Suffolk Superior Court judge later blocked the suit, allowing the removal to go forward.

In a statement after Wednesday's vote, ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose said the group would monitor the city's new tent-removal operation.

"The ACLU will be watching to ensure that people’s rights are not violated in the execution and enforcement of this ordinance," Rose said.

There are currently about 52 tents and at least 85 people living in the area, a city spokesperson said Wednesday.

Mayor Wu is set to share more details about the city's removal plan on Thursday morning.

Correction: This story was corrected to show that the ACLU of Massachusetts sued the city of Boston under Acting Mayor Kim Janey, not Mayor Michelle Wu.


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Walter Wuthmann State Politics Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a state politics reporter for WBUR.



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