Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said late last week that, at the area near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, no arrests have been made under the new city ordinance since tents were cleared at the end of October.
The troubled area known for homelessness and substance use disorder has been cleared several times in recent years, only for tents to pop back up. But with the city ordinance that went into effect earlier this month, first proposed by Wu, Boston cleared the area once again and banned construction of encampments under threat of arrest.
Wu said she is confident this plan will stick.
"We have felt very good about what we've seen in the last several weeks," Wu said, speaking on Greater Boston Thursday with host Tori Bedford. "We feel very confident that this is an approach that we'll be able to sustain over the long run ... but really, we're prepared for this winter."
No one has been arrested under the encampment ban as of yet, Wu said.
"There really is no effort now that this ordinance is law to try to, you know, circumvent or, you know, categorize an arrest this way versus that way. So, it's more that there hasn't been a need for this particular type of enforcement," Wu said.
Appearing alongside Wu on the panel, Tania Del Rio, the director of Boston's Coordinated Response Team, clarified that no arrests have been made in response to direct refusal to remove tents.
"Boston Police has always been conducting enforcement in the area and in the surrounding neighborhoods ... they have increased their presence. However, they haven't made any arrests for refusing to remove an encampment," Del Rio said. "As the ordinance spells, they have made warrant arrests and investigations of all those kinds, but not for the ordinance."
Under a state law cited in the ordinance, police are authorized to arrest anyone who "remains in a street in willful violation" of the ordinance, "accosts or addresses another person with profane or obscene language" or possesses or consumes an alcoholic beverage in public.
Police are authorized to conduct such arrests without a warrant and keep detainees in custody prior to arraignment.
Wu said that, through a recent arrangement between the city and the Boston Police Department, people detained near Mass. and Cass are being held in a local jail prior to their arraignments.
Rather than being taken into the individual police precincts closest to where they were arrested, which "aren't really set up with food or medical care or arrangements like that," Wu said, those arrested are sent to a jail "where the sheriff already has all of that in place and all of that infrastructure there."
A bill that would legally establish a "keep safe" to detain people at Suffolk County correctional facilities has not passed into law. Since 2021, $1.8 million has been set aside in the state budget each year for the sheriff’s office for "agreements to provide detention services to various law enforcement agencies."
The central booking system is "related" to the ordinance, Wu said, "in that therefore there's less risk that someone who was taken into custody might suffer medical consequences because of the lack of care in police precincts," she said. "They're now taken somewhere where there will be care. But that was in place for every situation, not just Mass. and Cass."
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins and the Boston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Since the ordinance and clearing earlier this month, 102 people were moved from the area, Wu and Del Rio said. Of those, 73 were placed into low-threshold housing, 20 were sent to shelters, three were sent to specialized shelters and seven were reunified with friends or family.
"The bulk of our placement indeed were in those same programs that we used in 2022," Del Rio said, "that have been crucial and really life-saving for people to start on that journey towards permanent health."
When asked why a law making encampments illegal under threat of arrest was necessary to the goal of sheltering the homeless community, Wu said there had been an increase in violent incidents in the area leading up to the sweep. "Self protection" weapons like bats and knives were left behind in the tents, Wu said. "Those were used, unfortunately all too often to create an environment that was not safe for everyone."