City moves encampments off Southampton Street after ‘close calls’ with traffic

Mayor Michelle Wu said there has been an increase in demand around Mass. and Cass that the city has not been able to meet.

People living in encampments on Southampton Street were required by the city to move Wednesday morning to nearby Atkinson Street, as officials continue to struggle with addressing the overlapping crises of homelessness, addiction, and mental health concentrated in the area known as “Mass. and Cass.”

Reporters at the scene observed city workers sweeping the street afterward, clearing anything left behind. 

Mayor Michelle Wu told reporters the flurry of activity was in part what city workers are engaged with on the ground each week — deep cleaning of the streets, public health outreach, and coordination with public safety — to address health and sanitation issues in the area. 


“Today in addition to that we are starting to close down access for gathering on Southampton Street,” Wu said. “With the cars flying by, there have been way too many close calls of people being too close in traffic or having a near miss with the vehicular traffic. So that chunk of the street is not going to be a place where people are gathering.

“We are going to concentrate on being able to provide services and access to safer parts of the area right nearby to our Engagement Center and some of the places where case management and access to housing and treatment services can be more directly given,” she continued.

Asked whether moving people to Atkinson Street is just recreating the conditions that existed 10 months ago when the city moved to dismantle encampments in the area and get people into housing, Wu said the situation is different.

A year ago, she said there were 200 “deeply fortified” encampments built on wood pallets and using propane tanks. 

“The fire department was coming on a very regular basis to put out fires,” she said. “We had some very bad burns, and this was before even the hypothermia and cold weather had set in. So compared to a year ago, we are in a very different place in terms of the coordination that’s been happening among different agencies. There’s a daily call where every single corner of this area is assessed and what the public safety and public health needs are so that the plan for the day can be consistent across all of our agencies.”


These days, Wu said there isn’t that level of entrenched encampments seen a year ago. She said the city is working to remove tents “every single day.”

Wu said the city is focused on continuing to add to its capacity to help with case management, noting that since the January push to get people into housing, 200 people have stabilized in housing, with dozens of those individuals moving to permanent housing outside of Boston through state partnerships. 

“We’ve seen that when we can provide housing for a group of people, those outcomes for treatment, for staying on a health care plan and moving from that transitional housing into permanent housing, that has been phenomenal,” she said. “But with the spaces we’ve been able to create at the city level we’ve seen an increase in demand and flow of residents to this area that we have not been able to meet.”

The burden of the opioid crisis is falling on cities, Wu said, stressing that Boston is a hub for services across the state and region. 

“Until we are eliminating poverty and the opiate crisis, in Boston we will continue to see it impact,” she said. “So we’re really trying to get down to root causes, work with our business partners, but the goal is to de-densify the area. And the large crowds are not healthy for residents who are seeking services and treatment here. And it’s such a chaotic setting and also not healthy for businesses and residents and neighbors in the surrounding areas.”


The city is continuing to ask for partnership from the state to assist with what the mayor said has to be a regional solution. 

In the meantime, she said Boston is doing its best to serve anyone that needs help. 

“We need to have the funding and support from the state and from our partners to be able to meet this level of demand as it continues to grow and as Boston continues to be a hub where people know that there are services available,” Wu said. “We have not been able to meet the demand, and more and more need has grown. So we’ll continue to fight for that partnership and funding so that we can do this work right.”


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