Boston Mayor Michelle Wu weighing ordinance to ban tents at Mass and Cass

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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is considering an ordinance that would strengthen the city’s ability to enforce a tent ban at Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue, as part of her new approach to address escalating violence in the area.

Wu said her administration is planning to finalize language for a potential ordinance “over the next couple of weeks.” This would give more teeth to the city’s existing anti-encampment policies, including the executive order that former Acting Mayor Kim Janey signed in the fall of 2021, she said.

These policies proved to be ineffective the last time the mayor tried to enforce a ban on tents at Mass and Cass, at the beginning of May.

“We’re really looking to codify that in an ordinance that would empower the Boston Police to have clear authority and ability to help manage what our public health outreach teams are asking for,” Wu said, “which is to help make sure that we’re not shielding and creating the opportunities for weapons and trafficking and other types of criminal activity to happen in the area.”

Prior to taking that kind of action, Wu said her administration will have to “take stock” of how a tent ban would impact the need for immediate overnight or low-threshold housing. The upcoming winter months and colder weather are also factoring into her decision, she said at a Thursday press briefing.

She is weighing that with the need to reduce the violence occurring there, saying that the number of people seeking shelter at Mass and Cass is “much smaller” than those who are coming to the area to engage in criminal activity.

“It’s a very, very difficult situation when there are so many residents in need gathered in one location, and there are also individuals who are looking to prey on people or exploit the vulnerabilities that are there,” Wu said, later adding, “The concern has been that when we see the types of violence or drug trafficking that is concerning, it is often connected to and shielded by tents in the area.”

The tents are a “real barrier to safety,” Wu’s Mass and Cass coordinator Tania Del Rio added, especially when the city is providing other shelter options for the homeless.

Along with preventing police from seeing the “very dangerous activity” occurring inside, “they are also undermining the case management and public health work that’s ongoing in the area,” Del Rio said.

The mayor’s plan for a potential ordinance represents the latest glimpse at the “major step” her administration plans to take to address the increased violence and criminal activity occurring at Mass and Cass this summer.

Wu said an ordinance would be just one element of a multi-faceted approach, and would not solve any part of the situation on its own.

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