BOSTON (AP) — Three residents of a tented encampment at the crossroads of Boston’s opioid and homelessness crises have said in a lawsuit that the city’s plan to move them from the area is unconstitutional because it does not provide viable alternatives, officials said Friday.
the trial filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and law firm WilmerHale was in response to the city’s decision last month to declare substance abuse and homelessness a public health emergency and clean up the area around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, known as Mass and Cass.
The city pledged to find alternative treatment or housing for people displaced from tents in the area, but failed to do so properly, according to the ACLU. Although only three plaintiffs are named, the lawsuit applies to all area residents, according to the ACLU.
“We cannot sweep or halt our exit from the intersecting crises in Mass and Cass,” Carol Rose, executive director of the state’s ACLU, said in a statement. “This plan is harmful and unconstitutional because it forces people to scatter without a safe place to sleep, while disconnecting them from the medical care they can receive at Mass and Cass. This is incompatible with city insurance, public safety and the law. »
The city, acting mayor Kim Janey, police and other city officials are named as defendants.
Janey said at a City Hall press conference on Friday that while she could not comment on the lawsuit’s specific allegations, the city was taking a “public health approach” to the situation, particularly in the approach of winter.
“We are not asking anyone to remove their possessions, belongings or leave the streets without first identifying a suitable place to go,” whether that be treatment or a shelter bed , she said.
About 350 people lived in about 150 tents in the area last week, the ACLU said in the lawsuit. The city has already removed about two dozen tents from city streets, Janey said.
The city does not have a process in place to assess a person’s physical or mental disabilities and underlying medical conditions that may make them vulnerable to COVID-19, the ACLU said.
“This inability to adjust housing suggestions based on individual needs forces people out and leaves them with no safe place to sleep,” the ACLU said.
The city plan violates the United States and state constitutions in several ways, including the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; complainants’ rights against unreasonable search and seizure and their due process rights; and discriminates against them because of their disabilities, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction to stop the city from “continuing to drive people out of the Mass and Cass area without first identifying viable alternative housing options for them.”
Protesters resumed fighting outside City Hall on Friday and called on Mayor Janey to stop the cleanup. Some have even said that the forced evictions are worse than the living conditions.
“If the alternative to the tent city is incarcerating people, removing people from methadone clinics and from what we’ve heard, removing people from tents, without offering the supportive shelter needed, so yes, we think tents are a better situation than that,” one protester said.
(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)