Boston’s Democrat mayor, Michelle Wu, is ushering in a significant change set to take effect on November 1st, aimed at addressing long-standing issues plaguing a neighborhood in the south part of the city. This neighborhood, famously referred to as “Methadone Mile,” has been marred by the presence of a homeless tent city where drug use and criminal activity have been prevalent.
For years, Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue have been dotted with tents and makeshift tarpaulin shelters, occupied by individuals grappling with substance addiction. Mayor Wu, in her efforts to tackle the problem, has initiated a process to dismantle the tent encampment.
The Boston Herald reports that residents of the tent city have been duly informed of the impending change through notifications in multiple languages. In a coordinated effort, newcomers to the encampment will be met by a team comprising social workers and law enforcement officers, who will make it clear that no new tents will be permitted.
Addressing the complex challenges posed by the opiate crisis, homelessness, and mental health issues, Mayor Wu stated, “There is no magic wand in a very complex, long-standing challenge that cities around the country are facing… but we know that in Boston we have a very good sense of not only who it is that needs services but also how to most effectively connect people with those services,” as she spoke with local outlet WCVB.
Despite Mayor Wu’s efforts, the problem at Methadone Mile persisted, which she inherited from her predecessor, former Mayor Marty Walsh, who joined the Biden administration. The number of individuals present in the area on any given day has decreased from approximately 200 to a range of 80 to 90 people per day, as per reports.
Wu’s strategy to address the issue comprises three key elements. Firstly, allowing the police to dismantle tents and tarpaulins is the initial step. Subsequently, the individuals will be connected with housing and various support services. According to the Boston Herald, those at Mass and Cass will receive transportation to temporary housing but will no longer be allowed to camp at the location. The tents and tarps they use for shelter have been associated with concealing drug use and other criminal activities, as highlighted by Mayor Wu’s team. City Council President Ed Flynn expressed his desire for a “zero tolerance” approach at Mass and Cass, emphasizing the importance of adherence to established rules and the need to take legal action against those who break criminal laws.
The third facet of Mayor Wu’s plan involves the introduction of a “heavy” police presence in the area to combat crime. Police Commissioner Michael Cox stated, “We want to make it clear to the people who come to the city with a different intent… we’re not going to allow that.”
Meanwhile, this ordinance comes into effect amid a broader context of a migrant crisis in the state, exacerbated by what some describe as an outdated “right-to-shelter law” entitling migrant families to emergency shelter funded by taxpayers. The state has indicated that it is nearing its shelter capacity of 7,500 families or approximately 24,000 individuals by the end of October, citing multiple contributing factors, including federal policies on immigration and work authorization, a shortage of affordable housing, and the conclusion of COVID-era programs.
Republican state Rep. Peter Durant voiced concerns about the situation, highlighting the substantial resources allocated to housing migrants while tent cities continue to proliferate. He has proposed an amendment requiring beneficiaries of the “right-to-shelter” to be legal residents for a minimum of three years, with the aim of ensuring that resources are allocated effectively to address the homelessness issue.