Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Boston City Council makes strides to address the Mass and Cass crisis

Rachel Choi

In the past two weeks, an ordinance approving tent bans and a grant for the funding of pre and post-arrest diversion of substance users to treatment have been passed by the city council.

The first step taken was an ordinance, previously filed by Mayor Michelle Wu in August, that proposes plans to ban tents in the area around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, commonly called Mass and Cass. The amended version was passed by the council in a 9-3 vote with one abstention on Oct. 25. 

Mass and Cass has been a topic of discussion since the number of tents grew in 2014 when access to Long Island, which was once the location of 57 percent of the city’s substance-use treatment beds, was cut off. The closure left approximately 700 people displaced, many of whom relocated to Mass and Cass. The humanitarian crisis occurring at Mass and Cass as well as elsewhere in the city is a part of a larger issue of opioid addiction which has been seen across the United States in other cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.

The amended version of the ordinance removed the fine for those who refuse to move their tents instead opting for a verbal warning. The new version also requires the city to notify residents about transportation options to nearby shelters and removes restrictions on what belongings can be stored by the city. 

Many of the councilors, both supporters and opposers, expressed skepticism about the recently enacted ordinance, which commenced on Monday, Oct. 30.

“I don’t feel reassured that any of this has a comprehensible plan,” Councilor Tania Fernandez Anderson said. 

Despite casting a “yes” vote, Fernandez Anderson expressed particular concern about the absence of a clearly outlined plan. Fernandez Anderson stressed the need for a plan for where those who are removed from the Mass and Cass area will go, and safety concerns for surrounding neighborhoods who will receive an influx of people after the removal. Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who also voted in favor of the ordinance, shared similar concerns.

“I don’t think that this is going to be what saves us, but can it be part of what gets us there,” Louijeune said, adding that there should be better plans for where homeless people are meant to go.

Council President Ed Flynn promised to work closely with and hold accountable the police commissioner and the Public Health Commission. Flynn emphasized a commitment to local residents and their quality of life.

“The level of violence … sexual violence, rapes, stabbings, shootings; we should never allow that type of situation ever again to occur in the city,” Flynn said.

Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who voted no, said that while the reformed ordinance is better than the original, the plan itself is flawed, pointing to the failure of similar endeavors in the past. 

“There’s no city that anybody can raise up as an example of this policy being successful,” Arroyo said. “The state really has to invest in this issue, they really have to invest in long-term care beds.”

In the past, actions that Boston has taken have been unsuccessful. Such actions include the creation of helplines to report discarded needles, arrests of homeless people, placing those in the area in shelters and treatment facilities, the building of a day center, and an increased investment in affordable housing.

Arroyo expressed his belief in the importance of an approach that focuses on long-term care. 

“These are human beings,” he said. “These are people.” 

Councilor Frank Baker, who voted no, was against the entire policy, stating his belief in a treatment-first approach before focusing on housing. 

“This is handcuffing us into housing first,” Baker said.

The following week, a grant for the FY2023 Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Use Site-based Program was unanimously approved by the city council. The grant of $1,124,566 will be designated to the police department with the intent to support pre- and post-arrest diversion of substance users to treatment in the area of Mass and Cass. 

Tents at Mass and Cass as well as other parts of the city have now been completely removed. City officials reserved 100 shelter beds and 30 temporary beds at the Boston Public Health Commission facility on Massachusetts Avenue. According to city officials, those who were removed from the area were placed in shelters and other transitional housing facilities with a small percentage of them moving in with friends and family. 

However, many of the people living at Mass and Cass had begun packing up before removals began—and it is unclear where they relocated to. For those placed in shelters, time will tell whether they will stay there as many reported that they don’t like living in shelters or feel unsafe at home.

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About the Contributor
Iselin Bratz
Iselin Bratz, Kasteel Well Bureau Co-Editor

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