A fix for the crisis at Mass. and Cass?

Acting Mayor Kim Janey declared last week that Boston will move to dismantle the tent city of homeless people that has grown in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. Janey’s announcement that shelter beds will be found for everyone whose tent is taken down came on the heels of a proposal from Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins to use a vacant building at the House of Correction he oversees to house and provide addiction treatment to those in the encampments who have criminal warrants.

There has been criticism of both leaders from public health experts, advocates, and some other elected officials who say they’re taking a heavy-handed approach that criminalizes a dire public health problem. To them, Tompkins has a blunt response: What’s your plan?

Some are “vehemently against people being housed and helped at an incarceration facility,” Tompkins said on a new episode of The Codcast. “My question is…what’s your plan? Oh, that’s right. You don’t have one.”

The area began to become a gathering place for those dealing with homelessness and addiction after the 2014 closing of a bridge that brought people to the treatment and shelter facilities on Long Island. An abandoned building in the Mass. and Cass area was turned into a 450-bed shelter to deal with the fallout of the closing of the Long Island facility, Tompkins said. 

“We were told that, hey, no problem. People won’t be hanging out. They’re going to come there, get their medication, they’re going to have case work, and you’ll never see them. Well, that didn’t happen,” he said. 

Earlier this year, Tompkins said, “we began to see tents pop up. Two here, three there, one over here, and nobody did anything. The city didn’t do anything. And so I guess more people felt like, okay, let’s establish a community. I don’t know what nonprofit was giving out the tents, but I’m told that a couple of nonprofits were coming down, giving out the tents.” Tompkins said it has “mushroomed” into a small village of about 200 tents and 400 people. “You have an open-air drug den, you have human trafficking,” he said. “And it’s an untenable situation that has to be rectified and remedied now before we turn it into, dare I say, the West Coast, where it’s really out of control.” 

Tompkins says a currently unused building at the House of Correction, which is separate from the jailed population there, could be used to house up to 100 people, who would be arraigned on outstanding charges but then sent there for 90 days where they would get housing and treatment services. 

“Should these activities take place in a health care facility outside of a correction facility? Absolutely, 100 percent. I agree with that,” he said. “But because of the scarcity of beds to address mental health and substance abuse, oftentimes people are sent to jail. And so I have a full blown medical team, substance abuse team, and mental health team. So we can help. We just want to be a part of the solution.” 

Tompkins said there have been discussions with state officials about establishing a “mobile courtroom” at the House of Correction to hold arraignments and begin the process of figuring out a plan for people now living on the streets there. WBUR reports today that work is already underway on a makeshift court. 

For several weeks, regular meetings focused on Mass. and Cass have been convened by Gov. Charlie Baker at the State House in the large first-floor room where the governor usually holds press briefings. The sessions have included Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Janey, Tompkins, city and state health officials, representatives from the Trial Court, Boston police, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which represents indigent defendants, and other agencies. “The state’s involved now big time,” said Tompkins. 

He called Janey’s plan for starting to dismantle the tent city “very doable,” saying it “hits on all of the salient points.” 

“I feel very good about the prospect of this being addressed in a holistic way,” Tompkins said. “The cavalry has finally arrived,” he said of the city announcement and the broader collaborative effort Baker has put in motion.

Janey’s plan does not, however, include Tompkins’s idea for making use of the now-vacant House of Correction building. “I think that’s politics, dare I say,” Tompkins said. He said the ACLU and other groups opposed to his plan “would descend upon her” had she included it. “So I totally get it.” 

“Look at the horrific situation that’s going on at Mass. and Cass,” he said. “It’s  a humanitarian crisis. Would you rather that – particularly in the winter — or would you rather them be inside out of the elements, getting the care that they need? And so that’s what we’re offering.”

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Packing the guns: Security officials see an alarming trend of guns, many of them loaded, packed in carry-on bags at security checkpoints at Logan International Airport. Read more.

Head of the Charles: This week’s Head of the Charles Regatta paid the Department of Conservation and Recreation a new $50,000 permit fee, which will rise $25,000 each year. In the past, the regatta only reimbursed DCR for its expenses. The fee is part of a new contracting approach at the agency. Read more

Mystic River connection: Gov. Charlie Baker committed to financing the construction of a $35 million bike and pedestrian bridge across the Mystic River connecting Assembly Square and the Encore Boston Harbor casino and a web of bike paths. Read more.

OPINION

Incumbent protections: Margaret Monsell questions whether the unique ballot placement benefits incumbents receive in Massachusetts are fair. Read more.

Leave our kids alone: George Ramirez, Wendy Estrella, and the rest of the Lawrence Partnership board tell the news media to leave the kids at Lawrence High School alone. Read more.

Trolleys are way to go: Jarred Johnson of TransitMatters says the MBTA has a bad plan for electrification because it chooses to discard, not embrace, electric trolleys. Read more.

Remove the barriers: Carol Steinberg, an attorney and disability activist, says it’s time for Massachusetts to address the many barriers that prevent the disabled from getting jobs. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The State Police union says Gov. Baker’s vaccine mandate is putting troopers’ lives at risk, as the administration denies exemption requests. A social worker and other DCF employees at risk of losing their jobs worry about the impact on kids served by the agency. (MassLive)

Lawmakers have increased the number of hours retirees from state and local government can work in the public sector while still collecting their public pension. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Afghan refugees are being resettled in Massachusetts, including five families coming to New Bedford. (Standard-Times)

Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey said the city will challenge the 2020 Census numbers, charging that the tally undercounted Boston residents by missing college students, inmates, and immigrants. (Boston Herald

ELECTIONS

The Globe endorses Michelle Wu in the final election for mayor of Boston. 

Boston district city candidate Kendra Hicks has faced eviction filings several times for owing rent, a fact some advocates say should not be held against her. (Boston Globe

Emails illustrate the strange candidacy of Eric Berzins, who is running against incumbent Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle. (Daily Hampshire Gazette

The New York Times has a fascinating profile of “shape-shifting” Eric Adams, the man almost certain to be elected New York CIty’s next mayor, who plans to…well, no one is quite sure what he’ll do once in office. 

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The state’s unemployment rate ticked up slightly in September, to 5.2 percent. (Gloucester Daily Times)

As companies look to tackle the global supply chain bottlenecks, they are increasingly skipping Boston’s port as a landing spot to offload goods from overseas. (Boston Globe

EDUCATION

Smith College announces that it will eliminate loans from its financial aid packages, instead offering grants from the college. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

ARTS/CULTURE

A Hull woman is releasing a short documentary about the dangers of vaping. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

A new report says the fare-free Worcester Regional Transit Authority recovered more of its ridership faster than other transit agencies during COVID, but the big question mark is whether the agency can afford to forego fare revenue. (WBUR) CommonWealth reported on Worcester’s success last week.

The MBTA says construction of South Coast Rail in Fall River is ahead of schedule so far. (Standard-Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A new study by UMass’ Gloucester Marine Academy finds that maritime jobs in the “blue economy” have been growing at a faster rate than the economy overall during the last two decades. (Gloucester Daily Times)

PASSINGS

Longtime Boston sports TV reporter Bob Neumeier died at age 70. (Boston Globe