The ACLU of Massachusetts said it has filed a lawsuit against the City of Boston to protect "the legal rights and safety" of people being evicted from the homeless encampment in the area known as Mass. and Cass.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday on behalf of three unhoused people, follows the recent evictions as part of the city's plan to address the worsening situation near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
“We can’t sweep or arrest our way out of the intersecting crises at Mass. and Cass,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a statement. “This plan is harmful and unconstitutional because it forces people to disperse with no safe place to sleep, while disconnecting them from the medical care they are able to receive at Mass. and Cass. Indeed, it’s inconsistent with City assurances, public safety, and the law.”
Ronald Geddes, who has been living in a tent because of the high cost of housing, is a part of the lawsuit.
"Being able to afford the rent that they're charging, for me personally, it's just not attainable," the Dorchester native said.
Asked about the lawsuit Friday, Boston Mayor Kim Janey said she couldn't comment on litigation but said the city will comply with courts and has approached the issue with a focus on public health.
"We are not asking anyone to remove their property, their belongings or to move off the streets without first identifying a place for them to go that is appropriate," Janey said. "We are working hard to match the individual needs with of the people who are living on the streets, living on tents, with the appropriate treatment and shelter options available."
"That has not been borne out on the ground," said Kevin Prussia of WilmerHale, a law firm that filed the lawsuit with the ALCU. "What you're hearing people being offered is simply a shelter. There's no discussion, there's no assessment on an individualized basis."
Geddes says he'll only leave under the right circumstances.
"I will continue to stay in a tent, continue to refuse housing through a shelter," he said. "And that's not because I don't want help, I don't want to help they're offering."
Janey also argued that, because of the extensive efforts to provide housing and services for people being asked to leave, the current effort is different from "sweeps conducted in years past."
More than 60 unsheltered people have been referred to "in-patient treatment, city shelters, transitional housing and assistance back to stable homes," Janey said. Others have moved as well, and more than 24 tents have been put into storage or removed.
People living in Mass. and Cass were ordered to clear out by Monday morning, with city workers tearing down tents following the 6 a.m. deadline for residents to leave.
The encampment has grown over the last several months, and the city has said it is unsanitary and dangerous. But officials also promised that people wouldn't be kicked out before being offered support at least twice.
Officials have estimated that about 150 tents need to come down. Sixteen tents were stored or removed from the encampment Monday, the city said. Additionally, 17 people were connected "with pathways to transitional housing," nine of whom toured new apartments, and several other people sought treatment, entered a shelter or returned to a permanent home.
Street by street, people are being offered storage for their belongings and space in shelters or housing.
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On Oct. 19, Mayor Kim Janey declared the rampant drug use and homelessness in the area a public health crisis and vowed to remove the tents scattered along the sidewalks near the intersection.
Then on Friday, the city said it was stepping up enforcement of its recent push to clear the area. Information posted on the city's website explained the steps that were being taken, including the notification of residents of shelter and services.
Some residents said they received the notice but weren't aware of offers to go anywhere else.
Like the hundreds of others living in Boston’s tent encampment, Tina Lunn got a notice on Friday alerting residents that the tents around Southampton Street would be removed Monday morning.
"They just left a notice and told us to get out. I think it's just despicable that they're not helping us more than they are," she said.