BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Three residents of a tent encampment at the nexus of Boston’s opioid and homelessness crises say in a lawsuit that the city’s plan to move them from the area is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide viable alternatives, officials said Friday.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the WilmerHale law firm was in response to the city’s decision last month to declare addiction 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 treatment or alternative housing for people displaced from tents in the area but has not properly done so, according to the ACLU.
Although only three plaintiffs are mentioned, the suit applies to all residents of the area, according to the ACLU.
“We can’t sweep or arrest our way out of the intersecting crises at Mass and Cass,” Carol Rose, the state ACLU’s executive director, said in a statement. “This plan is harmful and unconstitutional because it forces people to disperse with no safe place to sleep, while disconnecting them from the medical care they are able to receive at Mass and Cass. Indeed, it’s inconsistent with city assurances, public safety, and the law.”
The city, acting Mayor Kim Janey, the police and other city officials are named as defendants. At a news conference Friday, Janey said she would not respond specifically to ongoing litigation.
“We will certainly comply with the courts,” the acting mayor told reporters.
An estimated 350 people lived in about 150 tents in the area as of last week, the ACLU said in the suit. The city has already started clearing out some tents and personal property.
The city has no process in place to evaluate a person’s physical or mental disabilities and underlying medical issues that may make them vulnerable to COVID-19, the ACLU said.
“This failure to adjust housing suggestions based on individual needs forces people out and leaves them with nowhere safe to sleep,” the ACLU said.
The city’s plan violates the U.S. and state constitutions in several ways, including the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; the plaintiffs’ rights against unreasonable search and seizure, and their due process rights; and discriminates against them based on disabilities, according to the suit.
The suit asks for 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.”
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