With Mass. and Cass tents gone, Boston Medical Center sees surge in people seeking shelter

Local News

Boston Medical Center is increasing security at its campus near Mass. and Cass.

An exterior view of Boston Medical Center. Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe

The head of Boston Medical Center said Wednesday that the hospital’s main campus is experiencing a rise in the number of homeless people seeking shelter there since the city cleared out encampments from nearby Mass. and Cass last week. 

There has been a “marked increase” in the number of people loitering and sleeping around the campus, President and Interim CEO of the BMC Health System Alastair Bell said during a Board of Health meeting. People are congregating in parking garages and on sidewalks outside the emergency department, he said. 

BMC has added increased security patrols and a call box on Massachusetts Avenue to increase public safety, Bell said. The hospital’s partnership with Boston police has been working well, he said, and the department is maintaining a “very strong presence” in the area. He expressed concern, however, that this police presence has been described to him as a short-term measure for “weeks not months.” 

People are also gathering inside the emergency department. There were 25 people there at about 6 a.m. Wednesday, Bell said. They were not there for clinical reasons but simply seeking shelter. 

Although temperatures in Boston are getting colder, this level of congregation is typically not seen at BMC until the heart of the winter. 

“We get that a bit through the winter, it’s quite a big increase at this point. We normally see that in much colder parts of the year,” Bell said. 

While many are gathering at BMC just to find a warm place to stay, hospital staff are also dealing with an uptick in patients experiencing psychosis, Bell added. The number of people presenting as “floridly psychotic” is rising, he said, and many have been untreated. It is good that they are getting the care they need, but the magnitude of these patients does present a challenge, Bell said. 

“We, obviously, as a city have a lot of people who are in shelter who, for a variety of reasons, don’t want to come inside. We need to continue to work on this,” Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission Bisola Ojikutu said at the meeting. 

Finally, Bell said that he is concerned about capacity running out at nearby shelters. Ojikutu acknowledged that shelters are being “overwhelmed” at the moment. The city is actively looking for overflow sites in the next few weeks before truly frigid temperatures roll in. 

Ojikutu told Bell she did not have a timeline regarding the increased BPD presence, but that their activities will scale as needed.  

“Our hope is that there will be much more of an intense and sustained response over time than has occurred in the past,” she said. 

Ojikutu said that many of those gathering around BMC are chronically ill and in need of a place to go. A lot of them will continue to use drugs, and the BPHC is advocating for more services to help them. 

The city enacted a plan last week to clear out tents from Mass. and Cass, where officials said crime had gotten out of control. Atkinson Street, where a large encampment stood for months, has now been returned to a functioning roadway, Ojikutu said.

More than 100 people at Mass. and Cass accepted placement offers from the city, 73 of whom went to low-threshold facilities. There were no arrests made as workers cleared out the tents, Ojikutu said. 

The city set up a safe sleeping space with 30 beds at 727 Massachusetts Ave. to help those no longer living on the street. The people who were placed there already had relationships with BPHC workers but would find challenges going into a traditional shelter environment, Ojikutu said. Bell praised this facility, saying that it is doing a good job of keeping people safe and getting them the services they need.