Boston City Council

Boston leaders discuss crisis at Mass. and Cass during Tuesday hearing

Some city councilors have been pushing for a state of emergency to be declared

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Boston city leaders discussed the ongoing situation at Mass. and Cass — the intersection at the crossroads of the South End, Southie and Roxbury that has long been the epicenter of the region's addiction and homelessness crises — during a hearing Tuesday.

Boston City Council's Committee on Public Health, Homelessness and Recovery held the hearing following a Public Health Commission meeting two weeks ago, when the board did not vote for an emergency declaration.



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The commission told the Boston Herald that the issue "requires lasting intervention" and that they don't want the legal tools to get tied up in a "temporary public health emergency."

Included on Tuesday's hearing agenda, which is scheduled for 2 p.m., is the discussion of a resolution calling for a state of emergency, and an order for a hearing to discuss the humanitarian crisis at the intersection.

"I have a young son," resident Marc Sorresso said. "He's two and a half years old and we were on the way to our playground next door at the school. He reached down and tried to pick up an actual needle."

Neighbors like Sorresso see drug paraphernalia and trash littered all over the ground on a daily basis. They text each other to prevent people from stealing packages and sometimes their cars are broken into. So they call their elected officials.

"I haven't seen anything tangible, in the eight years that I've been there, actually done by the city to address the issue," he said.

Four Boston City Councilors are calling on the Public Health Commission to declare a state of emergency at Massachusetts Avenue and Melaena Cass Boulevard, warning that the level of sex trafficking, drug abuse and violence in the neighborhood has reached the point of needing a “dramatic intervention.”

The health commission is hoping that city councilors can approve Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's proposed ordinance back in August, which would give police the authority to remove the tents and offer 30 new shelter beds to people currently living at Mass. and Cass.

That proposal was moved to a Government of Operations Committee, which will hold its own hearing on Thursday.

Councilors Erin Murphy, Frank Baker, Ed Flynn and Michael Flaherty signed the letter, asking that the Boston Public Health Commission take a vote to declare a state of emergency at their Sept. 13 meeting. The councilors believe that would provide more flexibility to the ongoing situation in that area.

Included on Tuesday's hearing agenda was the discussion of a resolution calling for a state of emergency, and an order for a hearing to discuss the humanitarian crisis at the intersection.

Councilor Erin Murphy, who has been calling for an emergency declaration, has invited a group of officials — including members of the health commission and first responders — to participate in Tuesday's hearing.

"I think many would agree that the city has fallen short in its response, and the lack of accountability is deeply troubling to me," Murphy said.

No one from Mayor Michelle Wu's administration showed up for Tuesday's hearing.

The councilors sent a letter to the administration citing another hearing on the mayor's proposal later this week.

"That doesn't meet the legal definition of a public health state of emergency," Wu said.

The mayor says she wants to create a new law that would give police the authority to remove the tarps and tents and add 30 new shelter beds to the neighborhood.

"We need all of those pieces — the housing, the health treatment, recovery, as well as public safety," Wu said.

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