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Boston Mayor-Elect Michelle Wu Announces Team To Address 'Mass And Cass' Health Crisis

BOSTON (CBS) -- Boston Mayor-Elect Michelle Wu made her first big announcement Wednesday on how she'll handle the situation at the troubled intersection dubbed "Mass and Cass." The incoming mayor named the team she's appointed to tackle the public health crisis in the area.

Wu, who said throughout her campaign that the issues of homelessness and substance abuse are a top priority, appointed former Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Monica Bharel as a cabinet-level senior adviser. For at least the next six months, she will lead the city's response to public health and housing challenges.

Wu also announced that she'll elevate Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu to her cabinet. Wu plans to reappoint housing chief Sheila Dillon and have Marty Martinez, who leads health and human services in the city, assist the transition as a senior adviser.

"We're going to move urgently knowing that every single day that goes by we are closer to winter, when the temperatures mean that already life-or-death situations become even more dire," Wu said. "This is what this team will be charged with and we have an amazing number of providers and experts who have been putting forward ideas for a very long time."

Outgoing acting Mayor Kim Janey ordered a ban on tents in the city while pledging to offer shelter alternatives to anyone forced to move. Most of the tents in the area have been removed, but Wu said public health workers are concerned that some people who were receiving services in that area are now unaccounted for. Some were placed in shelters but some may have moved to other areas in the city.

Cheryl Straughter, who owns Soleil restaurant in Nubian Square, is concerned about growing numbers of homeless outside the doors of her restaurant. "It's like shuffling cards. They move from Mass & Cass, and you know through a lot of challenges, they end up in neighborhoods, and we are trying to have a thriving business district," she said.

"We are seeing some smaller encampments pop up with different tents around the city," said Wu. "There are some deep concerns that many of the providers who... have been connected with patients, have had a very difficult time identifying where patients are."

For those who have not been placed in housing, faith leaders plan to meet in Nubian Square before midnight for prayer and outreach.

Rev. Liz Walker is among them. "Addiction is complex, and it takes long-term commitment, and then there are no guarantees, but we can't just send people away to another place or out of sight," Walker said.

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