Boston City Council to vote on amended Mass and Cass tent ban Wednesday

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Ricardo Arroyo will ask his City Council colleagues to vote Wednesday on an amended anti-encampment ordinance he’s filed, saying that the changes strengthen the legality of what the mayor proposed in late August for the Mass and Cass zone.

The amendments would eliminate a monetary, or $25, penalty for people who refuse tent removal, and directly involve the Boston Public Health Commission in cases where shelter space is unavailable, but the city must place restrictions on outdoor encampment activity for public health and safety reasons.

City officials would also be required to track available shelter space on a daily basis, per the changes, and provide notice of tent removal in a variety of languages, Arroyo wrote in a letter to councilors.

“The chair of the committee does not support this ordinance,” Arroyo wrote, referring to himself. “These amendments, however, clarify implementation of this ordinance for city departments and city employees, and also make efforts to strengthen the legality of the ordinance as a whole.”

While Arroyo has stated that he plans to vote against the mayor’s ordinance, he is recommending that it “ought to pass” in the new draft he filed Monday.

His recommended amendments were based, in part, on feedback solicited during the two government operations committee hearings he chaired, on Sept. 28 and Oct. 16, his letter states.

The hearings considered an ordinance proposed by Mayor Michelle Wu in late August, that would give police the authority to remove tents and tarps, provided that individuals are offered shelter and transportation to services.

While the measure is aimed at cracking down on the crime occurring on Methadone Mile, it would apply citywide, and be tied into an increased police presence that would seek to prevent encampments from recurring in other locations.

The amended ordinance expands upon a definition for what constitutes an individual’s personal belongings, which the city would be required to store for a homeless person displaced by the ordinance.

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It also adds a section that would require administration officials to attend an annual City Council hearing to provide an end-of-year report on the ordinance.

Other than eliminating a $25 fine, which councilors agreed was unlikely to be paid by anyone down on Mass and Cass, Arroyo did not make any other changes to  sections for enforcement and removal of tents.

Councilors wanted an outreach worker to be present during the removal of tents, which is broadly left to “the city” in the ordinance and expected to be carried out by the Boston Police Department.

Wu administration officials explained during last week’s committee hearing that while enforcement would depend on which city official finds the encampment first, “the goal would be a co-response system,” Arroyo’s letter states.

A majority of councilors have cited concerns with the mayor’s anti-encampment ordinance, ranging from doubts about whether it was necessary to remove tents, to the legality of a measure some felt criminalizes homelessness, to skepticism about an approach that was characterized as putting housing before treatment.

Most agree, however, that the tents, which authorities say are shielding drugs, weapons and violence at the troubled intersection, should be taken down.

If the mayor’s ordinance passes this week, enforcement would begin seven days later. If it fails, the ‘no’ vote is not subject to a mayoral veto.

“We urge the Council to approve the ordinance on Wednesday so city officials and provider partners can finalize preparations for implementation,” Wu spokesperson Ricardo Patrón said in a Monday statement.

City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

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