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Executive order outlines strategy to address public health and encampments in Boston

The order signed by Mayor Janey prioritizes public health through City and state housing resources.

Mayor Kim Janey today signed an Executive Order Establishing a Coordinated Response to Public Health and Encampments in the City of Boston. The order is a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 in the City of Boston, which exacerbated unsheltered homelessness and increased the number of individuals across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts facing opioid addiction. Through the multi-departmental, collaborative approach, the City seeks to address the public health and public safety concerns through enhancing efforts to provide housing to those experiencing homelessness. The executive order seeks to ensure the public health and public safety of individuals living in tents and encampments throughout the City of Boston, in particular at the epicenter of the crisis in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. 

In parallel with Mayor Janey’s executive order, Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu has issued a temporary order relative to the ongoing public health emergency relative to COVID-19 declaring that substance use disorder, unsheltered homelessness and related issues in the City of Boston constitute a public health crisis.

“Boston has been a regional leader in supporting people who are gripped by substance use disorder and made even more vulnerable by mental illness and homelessness. As the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates these problems, City of Boston workers have been on the ground, providing life-saving support to the people on our streets from cities and towns across Massachusetts and beyond,” said Mayor Janey. “With this executive order, residents facing substance use disorder and unsheltered homelessness can have the shelter and treatment they need to help them be safe and get better. Thank you to our entire team and all of our partners who are working to ensure our most vulnerable neighbors are healthy and safe.”

Through the Executive Order, the City of Boston has established the following multi-pronged strategy: 

Establish a central command structure: City of Boston Office of Health & Human Services, working in direct partnership with the State Executive Office of Health & Human Services, will create and lead a central command structure to strengthen overall street level interventions, ensure alignment of resources for those in need, and direct efforts to address the public health crisis created by encampments in Boston. The central command structure shall track, and provide to all relevant departments, information concerning available shelter and treatment options.

Implement procedures and social service interventions to address public health crisis created by tents or temporary shelters: As stated in existing laws, coupled with the Public Health Emergency, tents and temporary shelters will no longer be allowed on the public ways in the City of Boston. The Mayor’s Office will publish a revised Homeless Encampment Protocol that will reflect the principles outlined in the executive order. That Protocol will establish procedures for assessing the needs of unsheltered individuals, performing intensive and persistent outreach and engagement, and providing low-barrier pathways to housing with a goal of connecting individuals with appropriate shelter and services. All such enforcement and actions should not criminalize the status of being an unsheltered individual, an individual with substance use disorder, or an individual with mental illness. The Protocol will clearly state that no City of Boston employee will require an unsheltered individual to remove their encampment from public property unless there is shelter available for that individual.

Identifying shelter for immediate placements: The City’s Department of Neighborhood Development and the Boston Public Health Commission will work partner agencies to bring additional beds online, including low-threshold beds, to support regional, re-housing and stabilization efforts serving individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness.  

Establishing clear and clean streets and walkways: The Boston Transportation Department and the Department of Public Works will implement road safety measures to improve road and sidewalk safety and access and focus on the cleanliness of the area and conduct ongoing street and sidewalk cleaning in the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area.

Increasing Crime and Violence Control and Enforcement: The Boston Police Department will continue to enforce all laws related to drug trafficking, human trafficking, disorderly conduct, and trespassing to address the victimization of individuals suffering from substance use disorder. Additionally, the City of Boston will work with relevant partners to prioritize, when appropriate, diversion to treatment programs for individuals who are court-involved.

“The Mass and Cass area has become the most visible presence of the opioid crisis in Boston, and the issues we face have grown in complexity throughout the pandemic,” said Chief of Boston’s Health and Human Services, Marty Martinez. “This multilayered executive order keeps urgency, equity, and public health strategies at the forefront of everything we do.”

“The Mayor’s Executive Order and BPHC’s Temporary Order have finally declared the trauma, devastation, and harm we see every day on this area exactly what it is - a public health crisis. Leaders from the medical, mental health, substance use, housing, and public safety professions are finally collaborating to craft humane and trauma informed solutions for the people living and seeking treatment in this area,” said District Attorney Rachael Rollins.

The City continues to work to connect those struggling with substance use disorder and experiencing homelessness to services. During the first ten months of the present calendar year, the Office of Recovery Services street outreach team has conducted over 21,000 interactions with individuals on the street (over 2,100 monthly), making over 7,000 referrals to services (over 700 referrals monthly).

The City also continues to create pathways to permanent housing, prioritizing the vulnerable unsheltered population in the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area. The Office of Recovery Services is working with the City’s Street to Home initiative to house 25 individuals every month for at least three months from the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard area who have chronic experiences of unsheltered homelessness, mental health challenges, and substance use disorder.

Read the full executive order

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