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Mayor Michelle Wu said Monday that 83 people living in the encampments at Mass. and Cass in Boston have been placed into low-threshold housing ahead of the Wednesday deadline set by the city to begin clearing tents in the area, which has become the epicenter of the region’s opioid, housing, and mental health crises.
During a press conference at City Hall, Wu reiterated that her administration is approaching the ongoing humanitarian emergency focused on public health and housing.
Between the winter storm seen last week and the plummeting temperatures expected Tuesday, she said the city is “past the point of urgency” for addressing the health and safety of those living unsheltered in the area.
“It is impossible to be fully safe and healthy living in a tent in winter in Boston,” Wu said. “So we cannot wait even one more day, one more week to make sure that we’re connecting people to housing.”
The mayor said the city has been implementing a new, individualized approach to the crisis with outreach workers “meeting each person where they are” and identifying their specific health or housing needs, connecting with the residents of the encampments each day.
“We continue to make progress on this goal, and as of this morning, 83 people have already been placed into housing created across the city,” Wu said. “And there is space available for the remaining 62 residents of the encampments who were surveyed.”
The Boston Public Health Commission surveyed those living in the encampments in December, identifying 145 residents, Wu said.
The mayor said almost all of those captured by the study told city officials they wanted to move into low-threshold housing offering wrap-around medical services, but that existing options did not meet their needs.
After the survey was conducted, the city announced its plan to expand low-threshold housing at several sites across the city, including at the Shattuck Campus, the Roundhouse Hotel, and EnVision Hotel, and laid out a deadline of Jan. 12 of connecting people to housing. The city has also repurposed space at its homeless shelters at 112 Southampton St. and Woods-Mullin.
According to the city, Wu’s administration has identified low-threshold spaces for 200 individuals, with 159 of those beds operational and available as of Monday.
On Wednesday, the city’s encampment protocols will go into effect. The measures, updated under former Mayor Kim Janey, mandate 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 protocols state. “They remain free to leave (i.e., not subject to arrest), with or without removing their tent.”
Since announcing the deadline, Wu said city outreach teams have been working daily to connect residents of the encampments to housing and that residents were notified in December that tents would not be permitted after Jan. 12.
City officials said efforts to get people into the available beds will ramp up Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
“On Wednesday, the city will continue efforts to connect individuals with housing, take down the tents that are left behind and no longer needed, and begin clearing the street,” Wu said. “City departments will continue to maintain their presence in the neighborhood beyond Wednesday and beyond this week as well … Efforts to remove encampments, some of which are very large fortified structures will take more than one day, but these efforts will begin in earnest on Wednesday.”
The mayor acknowledged that there are more than the 62 people who were surveyed living at Mass. and Cass, noting that “people are constantly coming and going.”
“In addressing this crisis and the situation that’s in front of us, our approach is to really understand who is truly living in the encampments and has been living in this area, for some individuals for a number of years, who we are really going to connect and wrap around with housing and services,” she said. “And then continue outreach with any other folks who might be in the area or in need of housing and shelter, as has been the city’s mode, even long before this approach to ensure we’re still connecting everyone with resources.”
Asked if she expected any arrests on Wednesday of people who don’t leave the encampments, Wu again emphasized the city’s approach being led by housing and public health.
“We have worked with the individuals living in the encampments for days, weeks, months, hour-by-hour at this point … We are going to focus on connecting people to the housing and services that they need and will not be — we are looking to avoid criminalizing any part of this process,” she said. “There has been activity going on that is not safe, that is not in the best interest or health, or legal, when it comes to drug trafficking, when it comes to violence that we have seen in that area as well. So in terms of housing individuals, we will stay focused on housing and public health. But Boston police will continue to provide support in ensuring that it’s a safe environment for all.”
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