BOSTON — Officials in Boston are beginning to clear a sprawling homeless camp, citing a crisis of opioid addiction there.
Workers with the Boston Public Health Commission’s Homeless Services Bureau on Monday helped people living in the encampment near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard — an area commonly known as Mass and Cass — pack up their belongings and break down makeshift living spaces.
People’s items were placed into large yellow and black plastic storage bins, to be taken away and placed into storage free of charge, The Boston Globe reported.
City officials stressed as the cleanup was underway that “no person will be asked to move their tent as part of this effort without first being offered shelter.”
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said the city should meet basic needs, such as providing trash receptacles and removal, bathrooms and sanitation, and access to clean water and showers for people living in encampments until they have access to housing.
The ACLU noted that public health and addiction experts sent a letter to elected leaders earlier this month urging them to take a “health-centered approach” that includes “promoting harm reduction, expanding low threshold treatment, and eliminating systemic barriers to housing and treatment options.”
“We demonstrated as a Commonwealth during COVID that we are more than capable of mobilizing quickly to shelter people and provide life-saving care,” Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director for substance use disorder at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement provided by the ACLU. “There is no reason the same couldn’t and should be done here and now for this public health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.”
Notices posted on Sunday along Theodore Glynn Way, a street near the troubled intersection, said officials will start a “general cleanup of this public space” due to “health, environmental and sanitary concerns” at 7 a.m. Monday.
Last week, acting Mayor Kim Janey declared addiction and homelessness a public health emergency and said the roughly 150 tents that have been set up in the area, mostly along Theodore Glynn Way, will be removed.
The order also says police will continue to enforce all laws related to drug trafficking, human trafficking, disorderly conduct and trespassing.
“Tents are not appropriate for housing, they lack clean water and adequate facilities,” Janey said at the time. “We cannot let our most vulnerable residents continue to suffer in these encampments.”
It’s not clear where the city plans to relocate people displaced by the removal of the encampment, but Janey and other city officials last week emphasized they would not move anyone from the site until they’re provided adequate alternative shelter.
City officials said those dependent on opioids will also be connected with substance abuse treatment options.
The area, home to numerous methadone clinics and social services, has long been a haven for crime and illegal drug sales and use, often in the open.