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Crews make final push to clear out Mass. and Cass tents

City public works employees driving bulldozers loaded tents, tarps, and other items into trash trucks to be hauled away.

Workers from the Newmarket Business Improvement District clean the streets at Newmarket Square in Boston Wednesday. City crews began taking down tent encampments Wednesday morning in the area known as Mass. and Cass, as the Wu administration said it had created enough suitable housing to accommodate people who have been living on the streets. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff


BOSTON (AP) — Workers started removing the last tents Wednesday morning from a once-sprawling homeless encampment at a Boston intersection known as Mass. and Cass.

City public works employees driving bulldozers loaded tents, tarps, and other detritus, including milk crates, wooden pallets, and coolers, into trash trucks to be hauled away, and street sweepers moved in once a section was cleared.

Mayor Michelle Wu had pledged by Wednesday to get housing for people living in tents near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

Wu acknowledged that it may take more than a day to remove some of the remaining tents.

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“Our goal from the beginning here was to take a different approach, one that was really grounded in the root causes of homelessness and the crises that people are living with here,” Wu, who took office in November, said at the scene.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu talks with Susan Sullivan of the Newmarket Business Improvement District and Dr. Monica Bharel Senior Advisor to the Mayor while surveying Newmarket Square in Boston Wednesday. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

Social workers helped people who had not yet left the camp, while police were also at the scene Wednesday. Wu and other city officials have said that they do not want to criminalize homelessness, and that officers were there to keep the peace.

The city has approached the encampment as a humanitarian and public health crisis because many of its residents were drawn by methadone clinics and social services in the area and were considered vulnerable to trafficking and other dangers.

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A city survey in December found as many as 140 people living in the camp, where drug dealing and use often occurs in the open.

Dr. Monica Bharel, the former state public health commissioner who is now leading the city’s efforts in the area, said that as of Wednesday morning, more than 100 people who had been living in the encampment had been relocated to temporary housing.

The goal is to eventually move people into permanent housing, city officials said.

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Some remain skeptical of the city’s plan, concerned that people with nowhere else to go will continue to gather in the area.

“Until people answer questions, I’m very suspicious,” City Councilor Frank Baker said at a virtual community meeting Tuesday night. “I’m interested in what this is going to look like in the next few months.”

WGBH reported that several people who lost the tents they were living in also had not found housing as of Wednesday.

“There is really no permanent housing solution for individuals like me who are looking to have a roof over their head permanently,” Sam, who didn’t share his last name, told the station. “I can’t get permanent housing and I have to decide whether to stay in a shelter and get robbed or jumped or stay out on the street.”

WGBH reporter Tori Bedford spoke to a couple — Wilnelia and her husband Avalberto — who were apprehensive about staying in a shelter, because Wilnelia has cancer and Avalberto is HIV-positive, putting both at risk for COVID-19. Later in the evening, she tweeted that Bharel and the city were able to secure a hotel for them.

The Material Aid and Advocacy Program, which supports the “unhoused community members” in the Cambridge and Boston area through material aid and access to resources, also noted that at least 50 people seemed to have nowhere to go in a tweet.

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There were also questions about whether the workers who cleared the area were doing final checks of the tents. Bedford noted that one tent was reportedly almost demolished with someone inside.

Later Wednesday night, Wu said that the team clearing the area checked every tent for people and valuables left behind. Residents signed consent forms for the work, she tweeted.

She said she was told that the resident in question ran back into a tent to retrieve something he borrowed from a friend.

Cleanup of the area began in October under then-acting Mayor Kim Janey, who declared addiction and homelessness a public health emergency.

The city Public Health Commission cited unhygienic conditions, such as a lack of running water and bathrooms, and the susceptibility of residents to “human trafficking, sex trafficking, and other forms of victimization,” in its emergency declaration last year.

Rosemary Ford contributed to this report.

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