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Mayor Michelle Wu is continuing her calls for more coordination in treating the humanitarian crisis at Mass. and Cass as a “statewide issue rather than just a Boston issue.”
The mayor addressed the situation around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard — which has become the epicenter of the overlapping crises of addiction, homelessness, and mental health in the region — days after the city began resuming its encampment removal protocols in the area following what officials said was an intentional pause during the colder weather months.
The city said as part of the protocols, individuals living unsheltered on Atkinson Street were asked to “voluntarily” remove their tents and “encouraged to take advantage of the free shelter, substance use treatment, relocation, and storage options available to them.”
“The City’s daily outreach efforts continue and an enhanced case management team is connecting with every individual in the area and developing individualized service plans,” the city said.
During a Wednesday appearance on the online radio show “Java with Jimmy,” Wu said that outreach and case management in the area takes place seven days a week and that many of the individuals in the area do, “in fact, have housing.”
“They have housing that the city has been working with them to secure and some housing elsewhere,” Wu said Wednesday. “We just can’t have an encampment solidifying back up again in this moment. And so we’ve been working with everyone very much to, again, surge on the outreach, counseling, case management, so we can get people to the services they need, while eliminating the potential for dangerous activity or the risk to health and safety that might come with more of an encampment.”
In January 2022, the Wu administration set a deadline for individuals living in the then hundreds of tents in the area to be connected with services and for the encampments to be taken down. The move was part of what her administration described as an “individualized” approach to the crisis, which included moving people into newly created low-threshold supportive housing sites, including at the Roundhouse Hotel and cottages on the grounds of the Shattuck Hospital. After that 2022 deadline, the city began enforcing protocols for removing encampments in the area.
Wu said that as of Wednesday morning, she’d been told that the week’s effort to take down encampments saw the number of tents go from “a little over 30” to 16.
“We’re going to continue to keep that number down,” the mayor said.
She did not specify where the remaining tents were in the area, and the mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Boston.com on Thursday.
When asked during her Wednesday radio appearance about how the city can navigate out of the “cyclical” nature of the situation at Mass. and Cass, Wu said that reopening a facility on Long Island “or some other major, regional statewide partnership is necessary to dramatically shift this dynamic.”
Boston is doing “everything that [it] can” to serve the individuals showing up around Mass. and Cass, the mayor said.
“But the reality is that a large number of people, including new people every month, are arriving who are not from Boston,” Wu said. “And, you know, that is our role, right? That’s our role in the migrant crisis. That’s our role — welcoming new residents from whatever walk of life. Boston has always been that safe harbor for people. But we have to recognize this opiate crisis, just like what we’re experiencing with migrant families, is a statewide and even national issue, where the city and the state have to really work together on this. … We really need a comprehensive plan.
“Long Island could, and should, be a regional recovery campus,” she continued. “And we are still working furiously on trying to figure out the right mechanism for making the buildings sound again, and then services, and then transportation there.”
Re-establishing a campus on Long Island is still years away, according to the mayor, who said that she gets “frustrated” thinking about what “the normal timelines are for something like this.”
She pointed to how officials at different levels of government and agencies mobilized quickly during the shutdown of the Orange Line in August 2022 to provide alternate transportation.
“I think about that choice,” Wu said.
The mayor stressed that the city still needs to outline exactly what its expectations and needs are for reopening a recovery campus on Long Island and how “we would need to move together.”
“We’re going to put that forward, and we still have a little bit more work to do internally to get all the way there,” Wu said. “But I’ve been getting louder and louder in the calls for more coordination and really treating Mass. and Cass as a statewide issue rather than just a Boston issue.”
Wednesday’s comments are not the first time Wu has called for more state and regional coordination to address the crisis at Mass. and Cass.
Last year, the mayor called on state leaders to create 1,000 new units of low-threshold housing outside of Boston, saying the city has been unable to meet the increased need for services despite its ongoing efforts. She renewed that call for assistance earlier this year.
On Thursday, the mayor’s office announced that the city had been awarded $16.5 million over three years from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build on Boston’s housing-centered approach to the crisis at Mass. and Cass.
In a statement, Wu said that the award is recognition of the successes Boston is having with its approach to the crisis.
“This unprecedented federal grant is a recognition of our coordinated approach to the crisis of unsheltered homelessness and will allow us to work with the Commonwealth and providers to expand on the progress we have made,” Wu said in a statement. “This funding will allow us to create more stable housing options for those who need it most, and provide wrap-around services to support them in their transition to permanent housing.”
According to the city, the funding will create 372 housing opportunities for “individuals or families with severe service needs and histories of unsheltered homelessness.”
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