Boston, MA

Locals fear sheltering the homeless will lead to an 'open-air drug market'

Tracey Folly

(Boston, Mass.) The City of Boston is taking steps to address its homelessness issue, but some residents are skeptical about the city's approach. Mayor Michelle Wu announced a plan to establish a "safe sleeping place" for the homeless, sparking fears among locals that it might evolve into an open-air drug market.

The plan involves clearing encampments in the Mass and Cass region, known for its escalating violence and rampant drug use. Police will gain the authority to dismantle tents and makeshift homes on Atkinson Street, with the area set to be shut down. In its place, the city intends to build a short-term shelter with a capacity to house up to 30 individuals.

While the intent is to provide a safe space for the homeless, local residents are wary of the plan's potential to push drug-related activities into their communities. City officials have assured that drugs will not be permitted in the shelter and 24-hour security will be enforced. This comes in response to increasing violence and drug activities at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

The proposal, which requires the city council's approval, ensures that no tents will be removed until their inhabitants have been offered adequate housing and essential services. While hundreds are seen around these encampments during the day, approximately 30 spend the night there.

The proposed shelter, located near the Boston Medical Center on Massachusetts Avenue, will offer clinical services to individuals and couples. Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, the city's commissioner of public health, emphasized the urgency of the situation at Mass and Cass and described the proposal as a necessary measure to restore order.

However, the plan has met with resistance from some local residents, with many expressing concerns over its implications for the South End neighborhood. State Representative John Moran, among others, voiced strong opposition to establishing another shelter in the area. The South End Forum penned a letter to city councilors highlighting the potential repercussions of the plan.

Emphasizing safety, Dr. Ojikutu reassured that the shelter would feature a metal detector, a strict registration process, and no loitering would be allowed outside. Furthermore, Police Commissioner Michael Cox mentioned that mobile police units would be stationed around the area.

In addition to the new shelter, the city plans to expand its emergency shelter space. The homelessness issue in the region is not new; just last year, city workers cleared an encampment area, leading to over 500 individuals transitioning through the city's housing sites, with 149 securing permanent housing.

Mayor Wu also addressed the significant increase in neighborhood violence, noting an average of seven assaults per week, a figure that starkly contrasts the city's overall average.

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