‘Encampment’ moved off Boston Common

Police helped clear out area near Park Street Station

THE BOSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT last week evicted from the Boston Common a fairly large group of people who had been sleeping and hanging out for many weeks on the grass near the T’s Park Street Station, an area many consider the front door of the city.

Police and city officials were reluctant to talk about what happened; some even denied the group was asked to leave the area. But Lt. Det. Michael McCarthy, director of media relations for the police department, confirmed in an email on Tuesday that Captain Kenneth Fong had received complaints from community members and subsequently “made an effort to address the group and move them along.” McCarthy provided few additional details and Fong was not available for comment.

What the Boston Common near Park Street Station looked like early last week.

What the Boston Common near Park Street Station looked like early last week.

What the same section of Boston Common looked like this week.

What the same section of Boston Common looked like this week.

The issue is a sensitive one for city officials. Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration has made dealing with homelessness a high priority, and some of his top aides have said they want to address the problem where it exists rather than just moving it along to another location. But many in the community say the section of Boston Common near Park Street Station had become an encampment of homeless people, drug users, and drug dealers, and the area had become an uncomfortable place for visitors and residents.

“This is Boston’s front door. It’s the first thing visitors see every day,” said Elizabeth Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, a group that partners with the city in supporting Boston Common and the Public Garden.  Where people had been gathering on the Common was just up from the busy subway station, adjacent to the Freedom Trail, and in the shadow of the State House.

iVizza said the city’s first priority should always be to help residents down on their luck, but the situation should not be allowed to get out of hand. “It had become an encampment in the park,” Vizza said. “People don’t feel comfortable.”

McCarthy, the police spokesman, said police can’t let people take up residence on Boston Common, which some of the people seemed to be doing with their sleeping bags and blankets. At one point a mattress was brought out on to the grass.

McCarthy said there was no directive to police to move the group off the Common. “It may have just gotten to the point where officers were getting feedback from the community, people saying I’m not comfortable walking with my kids through there to day care,” he said.

McCarthy also said officers regularly patrol Boston Common and the Public Garden to address the illicit use and sale of drugs, and help people find shelter who seek it. “When addressing groups that congregate in the parks, officers often remind them that staying in the parks after dark is not allowed. [The park’s technical closing time is 11 p.m.] They remind folks of the no smoking ordinance and public drinking laws,” he said in an email. “Often this attention is enough to cause the groups to leave the area and find other less conspicuous areas to gather.”

High-ranking officials in the Walsh administration who deal with homelessness were on vacation and unavailable for comment, but in an interview conducted weeks ago they emphasized that significant resources were being poured into the area. Sheila Dillon, Boston’s director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, said city officials knew most of the people hanging out around Park Street Station by name. She said the group included homeless people, youths with drug issues, panhandlers, and people engaging in illegal activities.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“It looks messy, but there’s a lot of services targeted at that area,” said Dillon, who was not concerned that the presence of so many people hanging around reflected negatively on the city. “I don’t think we’re worried about tourism suffering,” she said.

Dillon also insisted that the city’s desire was to get the people on Boston Common into housing and support programs, which could help them move out of the park for good. “We don’t want to push it elsewhere,” she said of homelessness. “We want to fix the problem, but the problem is complex.”