Hey, there! Log in / Register

ACLU sues to block further Mass and Cass de-tenting without better housing and treatment for tent owners

The ACLU and a private law firm have sued the city of Boston over its current program to remove tents and their occupants from Mass and Cass, saying that despite what Acting Mayor Kim Janey claims, many of the displaced people are not being put in housing or treatment programs and their property seized and destroyed, in violation of their rights against cruel and unusual punishment and for due process.

In a suit filed in Suffolk Superior Court on behalf of three specific people, the group and the firm of WilmerHale ask a judge to order an immediate end to the current sweep until the city shows it has "viable alternative housing options" for the people who now sleep in tents at the heart of Methadone Mile - and not just cots in overnight homeless shelters with no treatment for people with addiction or who suffer from conditions that could be exacerbated by "congregate" care like that, such as people with PTSD.

The City's ongoing displacement actions - which are driving unhoused persons from Mass & Cass - fail to address the immediate and urgent needs of unsheltered residents, and put the health and safety of an already vulnerable population at even greater risk. What is more, the City's tactics are fundamentally unlawful. Specifically, the City explicitly threatens criminal sanctions for noncompliance with displacement without any meaningful or individualized process to ensure that those people driven from Mass & Cass actually have access to available housing arrangements or shelter that can reasonably accommodate their needs. The City's actions therefore violate the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 26 of the Declaration of Rights under the Massachusetts Constitution, as well as federal and state disability discrimination laws.

Additionally, in the course of removing these persons from their only shelter, the City is unlawfully seizing and destroying their personal belongings in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and federal and state due process protections.

The suit describes the three plaintiffs, including:

Plaintiff Ronald ("Ronnie") Geddes is experiencing homelessness in part because of the ongoing collateral consequences of having a criminal history and because he lost his job because of the COVID-19 global health pandemic. He has bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), related in part to having been sexually abused as a child. He is in recovery for substance use disorder - for which he receives a regular course of methadone treatment. Over the course of the past year or so, he has resided at Mass & Cass, in a tent with his possessions neatly arranged.

The suit continues:

Marginalized and shunned by mainstream society and with nowhere else to go, Plaintiffs and those similarly situated have encamped at Mass & Cass. As of last week, the encampment consisted of approximately 150 tents and an estimated 350 people. Plaintiffs and those similarly situated encamp in the area because they cannot stay in most homeless shelters and, in some cases, receive health care, such as substance use treatment. There is a well-documented lack of affordable housing in Boston and available shelter space is limited. On any given night, the City may not have sufficient shelter space to adequately house its homeless or unsheltered population. Moreover, and just as importantly, congregate shelters are not viable options for many people, including because of their individual medical and family needs.

Congregate shelters not only generally require abstinence and prohibit the possession of controlled substances and harm reduction items - thereby effectively banning individuals suffering with active substance use disorder - but the congregate nature of such shelters is also often inconsistent with the needs of people with other physical and mental health disabilities as well.

For example, as noted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD can cause a person to be startled by loud noises, to have difficulty sleeping, and to fear crowds because they feel dangerous.

These symptoms can render a congregate shelter non-viable for people with diagnosed PTSD like Ronnie Geddes and AC, whose PTSD is frequently activated when in close quarters with others.

Neighborhoods: 
AttachmentSize
PDF icon Complete complaint271.25 KB

Ad:
Like the job UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!

Comments

These people have rights too.

up
Voting closed 38

I'm not unsympathetic to those who are calling those sidewalks home right now and want us as a civilized society to do the right things for those who need our collective help. But to have legal standing, you must have legal rights to something. What lawful rights does anyone have to set up a tent on a sidewalk in Boston?

up
Voting closed 120

I have worked at shelters and they are not hellholes. Why is it unreasonable to expect people to stay in a shelter?

up
Voting closed 62

My understanding is that the shelter system doesn’t work for people with opioid use disorder. People who are using fentanyl (which is in everything) need to use every few hours so they can’t stay in the shelters overnight - so there are empty beds and people living in tents…

up
Voting closed 28

The answer is not to throw up our hands and create a false paradigm, where the choice is either shelters that don’t treat the addiction v living in tents and being preyed upon by criminals and drug dealers.

up
Voting closed 27

Where are these facilities, do they have beds, and what is being done to direct people there if they do indeed have space? How long can they stay? Are their other challenges being tended to?

You sound like you think you are an expert - please answer these questions.

up
Voting closed 21

Oh great, another irony-meter broken

up
Voting closed 28

An acquaintance was homeless for a while when he was a young man. He didn't feel safe in shelters due to sexual harassment and theft of his personal property.

People who have an alcohol abuse problem don't want to be in a shelter if they're required to be sober to enter the shelter. Folks with substance abuse disorders are in an analogous situation.

Some people have a problem complying with all the rules at shelters -- often due to untreated mental health conditions. Some people have partners who aren't allowed in. Some have four-legged friends they won't abandon to go to a shelter.

It's a super-hard problem to solve because there are just about as many different situations as there are unsheltered individuals. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to getting people off the streets and into stable living arrangements.

up
Voting closed 39

Thank you. While shelters are fine for some people, for the vast majority of them it isn't. We, as internet commenters, make broad assumptions about the folks down there, and we really should not.

People assume

1) People want help
2) People want to go to shelters
3) They don't have existing legal issues

In some cases, its none of those. Some people just do not want to be helped or moved along. This is their life, and we have to accept it (and figure out a way to help them indirectly vs directly).

Combined with the list you made above, there is no 'one size fits all' answer to this. This whole issue is a complicated one. It has so many moving parts that I fear will be the downfall of any sort of help.

We NEED ready solutions now and it has to be a REGIONAL effort. Not just Boston, but every city in Eastern MA needs to be involved in the effort. If we do not, we will be re-addressing this issue in a few years (like we are now a few years after Operation Clean sweep).

Addiction and the people surrounding it don't magically go away because we have places for them all. They will be replaced with other people living in tents. The opiate epidemic isn't going away.. and won't without some regional pact.

And furthermore, the lawsuit at hand.. while I understand what the ACLU is doing and somewhat applaud them, I cannot help but think about the dropping temperatures in the coming weeks and while its 'being worked out in court' people will still be on the street, cold & struggling.

Any plan will take weeks/months to get up and going, but we do not have the time to waste.

up
Voting closed 34

But don't these two contradict?

Some people just do not want to be helped or moved along.

and

I cannot help but think about the dropping temperatures in the coming weeks and while its 'being worked out in court' people will still be on the street, cold & struggling

It seems like there's no good solution to the problem short of making safe housing available that has few restrictions attached. That is to say, housing which doesn't require people to be clean and accepts those with outstanding warrants without reporting the occupant to the police.

There is no money and little political support to provide that sort of housing even if doing so might be the most straightforward path for these people to get off the street and eventually get clean.

up
Voting closed 14

First line is fact

Second line is my opinion.

up
Voting closed 18

Did these shelters provide long term storage of personal belongings? Did they allow folks with substance abuse problems? Did they provide privacy? Did you have to leave every morning then hope there was room for you again that night? If the city was offering actual housing to folks, I would be confused about why people chose to stay. But I can see why they'd choose tents over certain shelters.

up
Voting closed 23

I think it's fair to ask what right the plaintiffs have to set up tents on city property. The lawsuit makes the claim that the city is unlawfully "evicting" the plaintiffs, among other things. In order to be evicted, one had to have a lawful claim to live on the premises in the first instance. I'm not sure that can be said here.

I think a similar argument would apply to the due process claim. If the city is denying them of something that they did not have lawful rights to in the first place, then it's possible that they are not due any lawful process.

All of that said, this lawsuit is a PR nightmare for the city.

up
Voting closed 42

What right do people have to park their private cars on public property.

It isn't as different as you might think - as in why can't people get a sticker and use parking spaces for tents?

up
Voting closed 24

Namely that the injury to the individual that comes from evicting them greatly outweighs the harm to the city from having someone on the sidewalk. So they don’t have the right to set up the tent but that certainly doesn’t give the government the right to remove the tent, thereby confiscating and damaging peoples’ homes and possessions. The action the city wants to take is way out of proportion to the problem.

This was right there in the first paragraph of Adam’s post. Unfortunately way too many people out there pretend that the homeless don’t have constitutional rights - and specifically way too many people out there don’t think the 14th amendment should apply to undesirables.

up
Voting closed 22

There’s not a strong 14th amendment claim.

up
Voting closed 30

I didn't catch your firm's name ...

up
Voting closed 20

Hence why the lawyers who work there are making the 14th amendment claim! Please read the first paragraph of Adam’s post.

Though perhaps the problem is that you don’t know what the 14th amendment is.

up
Voting closed 14

How does the 14th Amendment apply? The 14th Amendment isn't about harm to one party outweighing another, the crux of the amendment here is about the government needing to provide due process in actions that deprive the individual.

At best from my cursory understanding of the legal argument, it's applied when cities fail to provide notice - but it's not the case here. The suit attached seems to claim things that are factually untrue ("Defendants seized and destroyed Plaintiffs’ property without affording them adequate advance notice that their property would be seized and/or destroyed"). This is going to be one crazy he said-she said fact argument in court!

up
Voting closed 22

The ACLU is the one making the 14th amendment claim, not me! Please for god’s sake read Adam’s post before going off in the comments about how wrong I am. Christ.

up
Voting closed 18

This problem would be less unmanageable if the other cities and towns in MA were providing services to their own residents. We need the governor and state legislature to take steps to provide funding for services throughout the state so that Boston isn't the only place dealing with these people who need help.

up
Voting closed 49

There is no constitutional right to live on public property in an open air drug market.

The city won the case against occupy Boston on public safety risks that were far less significant than the ones in play at our version of Hamsterdam.

Expect this case to have a similar outcome. Michelle Wu should listen to the second message from the king in Hamilton. Do you know how hard it is to lead…..

up
Voting closed 58

That there is no constitutional right to drive, to own a car, or to park that car on public property either.

Meanwhile there are constitutional rights regarding due process during search and seizure.

I fully expect that you will have some reactionary reaction to this reality, but that it won't be grounded in actual constitutional rights, just privilege.

up
Voting closed 13

The lack of a constitutional right to drive allows the government to put tons of restrictions on it -- like revoking your license for too many infractions or not allowing you to drive if you don't pay your fines. They can require you to demonstrate a minimum skill level (and it's pretty obviously the bare minimum) to be granted the privilege to drive.

Your argument about there being no constitutional right to park on public property doesn't exactly support your point about the homeless being able to set up encampments on public property. There are hundreds or thousands of rules in pretty much every jurisdiction about where people may store their cars on public property and in what condition those vehicles must be. If you violate those rules, the government can fine you or even confiscate your vehicle. Park in the wrong place on street cleaning day and your car will not be there when you return.

So if you're trying to argue that removing tents on public property is a violation of due process for search and seizure, you're incorrect. You don't have a right to squat on property owned by the city, and they can remove items from their property if they haven't granted you permission to store them there. There's no landlord-tenant relationship that might afford an expectation of privacy, either.

up
Voting closed 35

Seems like it is a gray area.

And, no, seizure without due process does violate constitutional rights. When the city/state tows your car away, you have due process rights. For instance, there is a process where they can't just sell it or junk it because they towed it.

up
Voting closed 13

Tents on the sidewalk are a nuisance. But a mere nuisance doesn’t give the government the right to take whatever actions it pleases to get rid of it - these aren’t recreational campers, these are desperate peoples’ homes and possessions. In a state that actually values human rights and the rule of law, you cannot destroy somebody’s property - with no due process of law - just because it’s annoying.

up
Voting closed 17

People living there are assaulting and murdering each other. We have an obligation to protect their safety as well. The complication is how do we protect them against their own will?

up
Voting closed 14

As in many things in life, non-objection equals support in Boston politics. This equally applies to luxury real estate deals of your besties and to Mass&Cass policy. So the current sweep is as much on the incoming administration as it is on the acting mayor.

up
Voting closed 15

let's just go back to arresting people simply because they have warrants..

up
Voting closed 19

Good. Recovery starts with having a roof over your head away from people who don't want to recover and but instead choose to keep supporting drug dealers and shooting dope, smoking crack.

up
Voting closed 15