Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Monday that the city has started to remove tents along Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard and dozens of unhoused people have been placed into housing.
More than half of the people who'd been living in the homeless encampment have left, but more than 60 remain.
"The encampments that we see and that some individuals have been living in for a number of years at this point, are not a safe or healthy place for anyone to be living. There's no heat, no running water, poor sanitation," Wu said. " We're really approaching past the point of urgency here. Tomorrow, we will see even more urgency as temperatures continue to drop."
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The update came just two days before her Jan. 12 deadline for people living in tents at the Boston homeless encampment known as Mass. and Cass to be cleared from the area permanently.
Wu spoke with a renewed sense of urgency to connect people with housing resources as temperatures were expected to drop below freezing by Tuesday.
"It is impossible to be fully safe and healthy living in a tent in winter in Boston," Wu said. "So we cannot wait even one more day, one more week to make sure that we're connecting people to housing."
In December, the Boston Public Health Commission surveyed those living in the area and identified 145 people who were living there between Dec. 6 and Dec. 8. As of Monday morning, 83 of those people had been placed into housing created across the city. There is space available for the remaining 62 residents of the encampments who responded to a city survey, Wu said.
"There are more than those 62 people at Mass. and Cass, however it's a situation in flux," Wu said. "People are kind of constantly coming and going."
Wu said the city began on Wednesday working to remove the encampments in the area, "some of which are very large fortified structures." The mayor didn't provide a timeline for the cleanup, except to say that the work "will take more than one day."
The city will continue efforts to connect people with housing, take down the tents that are left behind and begin clearing the street. City departments will continue to maintain their presence in the neighborhood beyond Wednesday and beyond this week as well, Wu said.
"Daily wellness checks continue to happen, especially as the temperatures have grown colder, and we continue to see people moving in every single day into the new housing that's been created," Wu said. "So this week marks a transition from a housing surge to community building and recovery."
Boston city officials have been working to connect area residents with social services and new housing, calling the encampment near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard a health risk and dangerous for residents and neighbors.
"Almost all individuals who were surveyed then stated that they'd like to move into low threshold housing, but that many of the existing shelter options were not meeting their needs," Wu said. "The ideal dream was to find low-threshold supportive housing wrapped around with medical services."
"They will be given the supports and the housing search workers to help them get into treatment and permanent supportive housing," Boston Housing Chief Sheila Dillon added.
Wu said the work is part of a medium and long-term plan. She pointed to a trip to Long Island last week, where members of her team conducted part of an audit of all city-owned property and land to look for housing opportunities.
"We need -- as these efforts go on -- we need regional investment, collaboration and action and we will continue moving in consultation and coordination with the state and other municipalities," Wu said.
The January deadline was expected to finish work begun in October, in which protocol people in tents or shelters were given notice at least two days before their property must be removed as well as offers of drug treatment, shelter, transportation and property storage. City workers were expected to stay in the area after Jan. 12 to ensure the encampments don't return.
Support teams were working with the remaining 62 at Mass. and Cass, and the project is moving forward, with this caveat.
"These issues are not going to be fixed by Wednesday," Boston Public Health Executive Direction Dr. Bisola Ojikutu said, adding that it's "one step in the right direction."
More on Mass. and Cass
The city's efforts to clear the camp this fall have been met with skepticism and resistance, including a lawsuit from the ACLU of Massachusetts that aimed to protect "the legal rights and safety" of unhoused people being evicted. But last month, a state judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order.
The local ACLU's executive director, Carol Rose, said in a statement Wednesday that the organization "welcomes Mayor Wu’s proposed public health-oriented approach to address the intersecting crises people are experiencing in the Mass. and Cass area. We are heartened to hear that steps are underway to create viable housing options, and we will be monitoring actions on the ground to ensure proposed placements accommodate disability and other health needs."