Suffolk County

New proposed ‘safe sleeping area’ in South End sparks outrage

BOSTON — The city of Boston is announcing a new plan to clear the encampments where violence has been escalating, and it’s not sitting well with neighbors in the South End.

City officials said they’re working on codifying city law and creating an ordinance that would allow police to remove tents, tarps, and makeshift structures on Atkinson Street.

The details were revealed during a virtual community meeting on Tuesday afternoon with the goal of cleaning up Atkinson Street by November.

Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said the city is looking to open up a new “safe sleeping area” and clinical services location at 725-727 Massachusetts Avenue near Albany Street.

She said that space would be for the chronically unhoused people who are not comfortable staying in congregate shelter settings.

“All we’re trying to do is find a safe place for a small group of people to exist and sleep temporarily while we bring some order to that street,” said Dr. Ojikutu.

Hundreds of people have been seen congregating near the encampments at times this summer.

However, Dr. Ojikutu estimates that only about 30 people are routinely staying there overnight.

She said people would not be allowed to use drugs inside 725-727 Massachusetts Ave and that security would be in place around the clock.

“People are not going to be allowed to stand around outside. We will also have increased lighting, increased cameras, and the metal detector to enter the building,” she explained.

The explanation did not sit well with South End residents and community leaders who have been pleading for services to be spread out elsewhere for years.

“We will launch a campaign to shut this down if you come close to the South End with another shelter,” said neighbor Bob Minnocci.

Newly elected State Representative John Moran, who lives in the South End, shared his intentions of doing whatever it takes to stop the plan from moving forward.

“This is ridiculous,” said the Democrat representing the 9th Suffolk District. “I’ve had it. We’re not putting a fourth shelter in the South End!”

The Mass Ave address is less than a mile from Atkinson Street but closer to residential neighborhoods that have dealt with their share of quality of life concerns.

“Unlike Atkinson Street that can be barricaded at both ends and contained, there’s no way to control the situation there,” said neighbor David Stone. “This is going to be a disaster for the South End neighborhood.”

City officials said once changes in city law are cleared through the city council, they’ll be able to execute more of a public safety approach in the area.

Boston Police calls in the Mass and Cass area are up ten percent compared to this time last year.

Violent assaults have spiked in the area over the last few months, and cases of violence toward outreach workers have increased as well.

Dr. Ojikutu said the city is committed to rebuilding the bridge to Long Island and reopening phase one of services there in four years.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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