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Boston councilors can’t agree on taking down Mass and Cass tents

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A majority of the Boston City Council expressed concerns or outright opposition to the mayor’s proposed anti-encampment ordinance for Mass and Cass during a Thursday hearing, placing Michelle Wu’s plan for the troubled area in jeopardy.

While most councilors agreed that the tents should be taken down, the opposition ranged from doubts about whether an ordinance to remove them was necessary to the legalities of a measure some felt criminalizes homelessness to skepticism about an approach that was characterized as putting housing before treatment.

Only two councilors, Sharon Durkan and Ruthzee Louijeune, indicated that they would be voting in favor of the ordinance, which would give police the authority to remove tents and tarps on Methadone Mile, provided that individuals are offered housing and transportation to services.

“I don’t feel like there’s any evidence that this is actually helping in the same way in which I believe other programs and other efforts that you have led in a very specific way,” City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who chaired the day’s committee hearing, told a panel of Wu administration officials.

“My concern is that unlike other things that we can afford to get wrong, if you get this wrong, more people die. More people are harmed. That’s a very different consequence. You don’t get to unroll that,” Arroyo added.

Arroyo was among the three councilors who expressed outright opposition to the mayor’s anti-encampment ordinance, which Wu proposed in late August as part of her three-pronged plan for tackling increased crime in the Mass and Cass zone.

He, Frank Baker and Kendra Lara all stated that police already have that authority, and an ordinance is, thus, not necessary. The three differ, however, in other aspects of their disapproval, which, in the case of Baker, hinges more on the shelter and housing component of the mayor’s plan.

“I believe in my heart of hearts we’re going down the wrong path,” Baker said, adding that the focus should be on getting people into treatment, rather than trying to set them up in housing, where addicts will continue to use drugs.

“We don’t need this ordinance,” he said. “This ordinance is a way for this administration to try to spread blame across this body right here. If my voice were listened to in this conversation, I wouldn’t mind taking some of the blame, but my voice isn’t being listened to.”

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