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Mayor Michelle Wu released an updated timeline and plan on Wednesday for addressing the encampments in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston, the epicenter of the overlapping crises of addiction, mental health, and homelessness in the city.
Under the new plan, Wu announced that the city is setting a deadline of Jan. 12 for people living unsheltered around Mass. and Cass to be connected to appropriate temporary housing and services.
The city conducted a survey of all the individuals living in tents in the area in December to identify housing and medical needs, and the mayor’s office said the goal of Wu’s new plan is to help the people at the center of the humanitarian crisis transition to living indoors in supportive environments and “promote safety” in the area of Mass. and Cass.
“Our goal is to bring residents out of the cold and into supportive housing, to change the status quo in this area and citywide,” Wu said in a statement. “Our team is taking every possible action to alleviate the humanitarian crisis at Mass. Ave and Melnea Cass Boulevard and keep this area clear of encampments moving forward.”
Any tents remaining in the area after Jan. 12 will be subjected to the encampment protocols implemented by former acting Mayor Kim Janey in November, according to the city. The protocols targeted the removal of the encampments, with Janey and officials stressing that the goal was to get people struggling with homelessness, addiction, and mental health connected with resources and services. The measures drew criticism from advocates who said the steps only cause harm by dispersing and criminalizing a vulnerable population.
According to the mayor’s office, the Wu administration has identified a number of beds in low-threshold supportive housing environments that are either already available or expected to open “within weeks” for individuals from Mass. and Cass.
Two of the sites are hotels.
Victory Programs, a nonprofit that runs addiction treatment programs, shelters, and supportive housing, will operate a 41-bed, low-threshold, congregate transitional housing program at The EnVision Hotel in Mission Hill, according to the city. The site will serve as an intermediate step for unhoused individuals seeking permanent housing.
The Roundhouse Hotel near Mass. and Cass will also serve as a temporary site housing 60 people, the city announced. Boston Medical Center will administer operations at the hotel, providing 24/7 staff and case management and stabilization services to support recovery and transitions to permanent housing.
“The Roundhouse will have intensive medical offerings to help individuals address mental health and substance use needs, as well as connect to long-term and evidence-based treatment,” the city said in a statement.
The move to use the Roundhouse has generated substantial pushback from business leaders and residents of the South End and Roxbury, who argue the area is already over-saturated with services serving the homeless population and those struggling with mental health issues or addiction.
The hotel was previously leased for a year by the Pine Street Inn, starting in 2020, as the nonprofit worked to avoid overcrowding in its dorms in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. But other attempts to use the Roundhouse to provide temporary housing to individuals struggling with addiction have been unsuccessful in the face of neighborhood opposition.
In July 2021, Victory Programs developed a proposal to provide transitional housing for 14 to 35 people from Mass. and Cass using a portion of the hotel. But the plan was ultimately scrapped in the face of intense opposition.
The third site identified in the city’s new plan is the Shattuck Hospital Campus, which will host two temporary housing programs, as well as a treatment program for individuals from Mass. and Cass, according to the mayor’s office. The previously announced temporary cottage community being established by the state will provide temporary, low-threshold transitional housing and wrap-around services for up to 30 people.
Pine Street Inn will also open up a low-threshold, 30-bed shelter for men with housing case management and medical care, and Bay Cove Human Services will open up 17 new beds at the hospital for women to provide acute substance use treatment and resources for connecting to another level of care.
In addition to the beds at the Shattuck, Roundhouse, and EnVision Hotel, the city is working to “lower barriers” to spots in existing city-owned shelters and explore other low-threshold housing options across the city.
Wu has said her administration would aim to open at least 200 low-threshold beds across the city.
Dr. Monica Bharel, a special advisor to the mayor who has been charged with leading Boston’s response to the crisis at Mass. and Cass, said in a statement that the city’s new plan is an “an emergent effort to bring online low threshold and transitional housing options where individuals will have access to appropriate treatment and a path to recovery and healing.”
“We are working to transform the way we care for individuals experiencing homelessnes with substance use disorder and mental health issues through a public health and equity lens,” she said. “This transformation will minimize the barriers to accessing housing and treatment.”
Officials said that in the coming weeks, city employees working in partnership with local non-profit organizations will continue daily outreach to people living unhoused at Mass. and Cass to connect people to housing, treatment, and other supports.
When the encampment protocols go into effect on Jan. 12, the mayor’s office said the measures will be carried out by the Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Police Department, Inspectional Services Department, and Department of Public Works. Under the protocols established by Janey, the city mandates that unhoused individuals must be given at least 48 hours notice that their tent must be removed and be offered free storage of their belongings.
“Individuals who refuse to move tents on public property may be considered disorderly and subject to enforcement of existing laws,” the protocol states. “They remain free to leave (i.e., not subject to arrest), with or without removing their tent.”
The mayor’s office said the city “will maintain an ongoing presence, including outreach and street cleaning so that further encampments do not develop” after the deadline of Jan. 12.
“We are working every day to address the barriers faced by each person living in these encampments and to connect them with the medical care, substance use treatment and housing that they need,” Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said in a statement.
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