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'It Looks Like Hell Is Getting A Facelift,' Boston Clears Out Remaining Tents Along Mass And Cass

BOSTON (CBS) - The city of Boston cleared out all of the remaining tents Wednesday for people living on the sidewalks near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. Front end loaders and garbage trucks were brought in to demolish the tents and clean up scattered debris.

Mayor Michelle Wu set a January 12 deadline to remove the tents in the area known as Mass and Cass and connect people experiencing homelessness with temporary housing and services.

"Some of these people have been here for such a long time it's become their home, it's what they know," said Jason Campbell, who is among the homeless. "I love the approach as to what they're trying to do. It looks like hell is getting a facelift."

The mayor walked through the neighborhood Wednesday morning before the removal started.

"I gave her my name and stuff. I'm just trying to get out of being homeless. I've been homeless the last few years so this is not where I want to be. This is sad, this is really bad," a man who identified himself as Norris told WBZ-TV.

People dealing with homelessness, mental illness and addiction had been coming to Mass and Cass to take shelter with tents and tarps. The humanitarian crisis was exacerbated by freezing temperatures this week.

The city surveyed people living in the tents in December and said, as of Monday, 83 people had moved to temporary housing with addiction and mental health services. Spots were reserved for the other 62.

Many will continue to live on the streets. Campbell says he's been offered temporary housing nearby, but fears another flare of panic attacks. "I mean I guess I'll give it a try," Campbell said. "How long I'm going to be able to do it I don't know. I really don't."

Yahaira Lopez from the South End-Roxbury Community Partnership is happy to see steps being taken but said there are a lot of questions.

"We're seeing a lot more action than we've ever seen in a very, very long time," she told WBZ. "But for us it also sounds so unclear as to what the long term plan is and how do we address individuals that don't want to leave the encampments?"

"I hated seeing the tents go up, and I'm thrilled seeing the tents come down because it's a win-win for everyone," said Sue Sullivan, Executive Director of the Newmarket Business Association. More tents had recently migrated to Newmarket Square, surrounding the Massachusetts Wholesale Food Terminal. "It was time that everybody get to where they need to be, and that these businesses get back to the business of providing food for the city."

But some are concerned about what might happen when the dust settles and homeless people try to return. Ben Murphy with the Newmarket Business Association has been doing outreach work with the homeless. "I think if they stick to that and stay on top of things, that nobody gets lax about staying on top of the issues, that this could be potentially the start of a real solution," he said.

Norris has been living on the streets for years. He says he wants to leave the cold and dangerous place, but he also doesn't feel safe in a shelter.

"I won't say it's a good thing they're going to clear the tents. It's a good thing if they're going to put them somewhere that's feasible for them to be and not go from one place to another place or from one shelter to another shelter," he told WBZ.

Mayor Wu says several departments will remain in the area delivering health services and cleaning the streets.

She also says her team is working hard on long term solutions and permanent housing options.

Local business owners say they've been assured by the mayor the tent city won't return.

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