A Superior Court judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order stopping the City of Boston from evicting people from a homeless encampment in the area known as Mass. and Cass.
The ACLU of Massachusetts filed the lawsuit against the city on behalf of three unhoused people to protect "the legal rights and safety" of those being evicted as part of the city's plan to address the worsening situation near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. The lawsuit asserted that the city must find viable alterative housing before evicting people.
New Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday that the city was pausing the removal of tents from the area of pending the results of Wednesday's court hearing. Meanwhile, the state of Massachusetts is stepping in with a possible solution.
The encampment has grown over the last several months, and the city has said it is unsanitary and dangerous. People living in Mass. and Cass were ordered to clear out by Nov. 1. But officials also promised that people wouldn't be kicked out before being offered support at least twice.
The ACLU argued the housing options that have been provided by the city thus far are not always appropriate, especially when some of those in tents suffer from drug additions or mental health issues.
Even though the judge ruled in favor of the city -- with another hearing set later in November -- Wu said earlier in the day she was pausing the program because of the legal action, and if the city ultimately wins the case, she wasn't sure she'll resurrect the tent removal effort down the road.
"I think, across the board, there is agreement we need to take a public health lens," Wu said, adding that the city will "look at policies all the way top down to what is happening on the streets."
Lawyers for the ACLU of Massachusetts said in a statement that the city's legal team's arguments in court and what their clients have been hearing are very different.
"Our new mayor said just this morning that she is contemplating a new approach to this," attorney Ruth Bourquin said in a statement. "And yet here in court today, representations were made that the City does not have housing options that are appropriate for many of our clients who cannot use congregate shelters. Steps are underway to create those housing options, and we call upon the City to continue the pause and not force people under threat of arrest to leave where they are unless and until they have a housing option that takes into account their disabilities and other barriers."
John Atwood, 54, said Wednesday that he's been living in a tent for the last few months, and he's stayed put, unlike dozens of other people who've moved out of the Mass. and Cass area.
"I’m praying that one day I'll get housing," he said. "I get up every day and try to do the best I can. I have no family, this is all I've got."
The state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services is implementing temporary shelters, known as pallet housing, which are often found out west. Under the plan, 30 small temporary houses will be set up at Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain as early as December. Each pallet is intended to house one person.
The head of the Pine Street Inn, a homeless service in Boston, said the plan could work as long as there are services for those who are relocated.
"The state is being creative and trying to put as many solutions as they can come up with on the table," Lyndia Downie of the Pine Street Inn said. "And I think for some people, they will like these and they will have a place to go -- a regular place to go."
On Oct. 19, Acting 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.
One week later, 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.
Newly sworn-in Mayor Michelle Wu announced earlier this month the appointment of a new cabinet-level senior advisor to lead Boston's response to the public health crisis at Mass. and Cass.
The mayor's first three cabinet appointments included the new senior advisor to lead the city's response to "urgent public health and housing challenges," including the ongoing public health emergency at Mass. and Cass.