Lawrence Mayor Cracks Down on “Tent City” Homeless Encampment, Sets Up Police Command Under Bridge




By Tom Duggan – July 26, 2017

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera’s new “Homeless Coordinator” Anil “Nilly” DaCosta has issued a new directive to manage the ongoing problem of dozens of homeless squatters living under the Casey Bridge. The encampment, known as “Tent City” has been a haven for drugs, prostitution, and other crimes in the past three years, something DaCosta says cannot be tolerated any longer. 

The new directive says that any organization or individual who wants to donate food or items must register with the city and check in at the new Lawrence Police command center which was placed under the bridge at Tent City on Wednesday. Mayor Rivera says the police command center will be manned with an officer “24-7 until further notice.” 

 “We are doing this,” DeCosta said, “because the encampment has gotten more and more out of control as time goes on. There are lots of people going down there to bring things like food and clothing and furniture. As of today, anyone who wants to provide any kind of services down there will have to register with me and check in with the police when they get there.”

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Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera says the people of Lawrence have had enough with the situation at Tent City and it’s his responsibility as mayor to do whatever he can to solve the problem. 

“This is really something the state or the federal government is better equipped to deal with. We just don’t have the resources to manage this. So, we are doing the best we can. This is not a humane place for anyone to be. Nobody would want a member of their family under there, believe me. They need to come out and get the social services and treatment to start putting their lives together. The official policy is not to encourage people to be down there. Also ,if you are a criminal you can’t be down there. If there’s a warrant or you are a known criminal you are getting locked up.”

Rivera says that if people really want to help the homeless at Tent City, through an agency or a church, they can help get someone out from under the bridge.  “Help find them a place to be. Help them get to an AA meeting, bring them support by way of getting them a place to stay. Help them get health or mental health services. 

The mayor says that the situation will be reevaluated to see what progress is being made. 




Asked what would happen if someone tries to feed the homeless or make a donation without his permission, Homeless Coordinator DeCosta said they will be turned away. 

“They will be asked to leave by police. We have a command unit down there as we speak. You can only provide a service there if you are registered with me. No more people driving down there dropping off furniture or clothing. If people or organizations in the community can give real services like; case management, testing, psychological evals and so forth, real services, then fine. But, what we have found is that the homeless don’t feel the need to try and access the services they need, or go out to get clothing or other things; then they are being enabled and it does more damage than good.”

“We have to take control of what’s going on down there and see how this takes effect. Will they seek resources on their own? Will they stay down there all the time like they are now? My guess is no. But what it comes down to is this, there’s a lot of crime going on down there and some people make it look like they are bringing donations and they are really bringing drugs.”

“I think Pemberton Park right there on the river, is one of the nicest parks in the area. But, people feel like they can’t go down there and enjoy it because of the activities that go on down there. That needs to change.” 


CEO of Gr. Lawrence Psychological Center Carina Pappalardo

CEO of  the Greater Lawrence Psychological Center Carina Pappalardo

Carina Pappalardo, CEO of the Greater Lawrence Psychological Center – and the Daybreak homeless shelter – told The Valley Patriot that the new regulations for Tent City are something she is willing to help accommodate. 

“Daybreak will help anyone and everyone who needs assistance, whether it’s food or resources. We already provide dinner, but we would be happy to start serving lunch on the deck at Daybreak. We can serve as a drop-off  spot for food or clothing, where donations can be made specifically for individuals under bridge who need assistance,” Pappalardo said. 

On a daily basis, The Greater Lawrence Psychological Center in Lawrence provides medical assistance, paralegal assistance, housing and employment assistance, and help for women who have been in abusive relationships.

“I want to let people know that, given the situation down there, instead of bringing people lunch down at Tent city, they can drop off food at Daybreak shelter on 19 Winter Street, and we can provide lunch here for people who need a meal. “

The new Homeless regulations were spelled out in a letter DeCosta sent to the social services organizations which read as follows: 

Protocols for Groups Providing Services for the Casey Bridge Encampment

These protocols have been proposed to better help those providing assistance to the transient population residing under the Casey Bridge. They are intended to provide guidance for groups and individuals offering support and services, while also ensuring that the homeless individuals are being truly supported and there is no unintended support of their addictive and/or other self-destructive tendencies. Though many groups and services have the best intentions, their execution can be easily manipulated to support drug addiction and deter individuals from seeking professional services. With these protocols, support and care can be coordinated with efficiency.  They will also help to uphold public health and public safety of service providers and the community as a whole. The protocols are in effect as of July 27, 2017.

All groups, organizations, services, and volunteers are asked to inform the Homelessness Initiatives Coordinator by email before going to the encampment. Details should include:

  1. How many people are in your party
  2. What items are being brought to the site
  3. What vehicle you will be using

After the party is registered, they will receive dated tags from the Office of Community Development that are to be worn when going to the encampment. Without a tag, police can, at their discretion, ask unauthorized parties to leave. Any items or food that is brought without authorization will be considered illegal dumping and providers will be subject to penalties by the proper authorities. Any group or organization that has been approved by the Homeless Initiative Coordinator to provide goods or services to the homeless population must report to the law enforcement officer onsite prior to providing any service. Services can only be provided between 9:00am and 4:30pm, unless otherwise noted. Behavioral health and medical agencies will receive a document to present to police officials instead of tags due to the frequency in which they must visit the encampment.

These protocols should be followed with any other encampments.


Items and Goods

  • Sterno cans, propane tanks, or grills should not be distributed to individuals in the encampments. Sterno cans are the small silver canisters with a flammable gel inside. These have become very problematic and have caused fires in camps in the past, resulting in injuries. Hand warmers, body warmers, and toe warmers are acceptable alternatives.
  • All items should be removed from their original packaging and price tags should be taken off products before distribution. This is a precaution so that items are less likely to be resold to feed addictions.
  • If new or gently used shoes are given, the individuals should turn in their old shoes. Their initials should be written on the front of the new shoes. This is a precaution so that items are less likely to be resold and so the shoes can be tracked to see if they are with the person to whom they were originally given. There have been several instances of shoes being sold or traded for drugs.
  • Shoes or anything valued at or over $30 should be recorded along with the names of the recipients. This information can be submitted to the Homelessness Initiatives Coordinator so that it may be shared with other service providers to ensure that donations are equally distributed and that individuals are getting only the necessary items, while ensuring individuals are not exploiting the volunteers or groups for profit.
  • Tent distribution is not encouraged. Homeless individuals are encouraged to seek shelter and transitional housing rather than long term outdoor living conditions.
  • Items should only be given upon request. Items and donations are not to be laid out for the choosing. Individuals often take multiple items that they do not necessarily need. You can contact the Homelessness Initiatives Coordinator for a list of critical needs.


  • Food should only be distributed on days where the non-profit sector is unable to provide 3 meals per day. This means that food should only be brought down on weekends in warm weather seasons when the Good Shephard Center (GSC) is not open. Only during these seasons is it necessary for food to be brought to the encampment to supplement the lunch the GSC would usually provide.
  • Meals are available as follows:
    • Cor Unum- 191 Salem Street-open for breakfast (6:00am-8:00am)and dinner (4:30pm-6:30pm)7 days per week
    • Good Shepherd Center- 260 Park Street- open for breakfast (8:30am-10:00am) and lunch (11:30am-1:00pm) Mon-Fri from May to October
      • open for breakfast and lunch 7 days per week from November to April
    • Bread and Roses- 58 Newbury Street- open for dinner Mon-Thurs & Sat (5:00pm-7:00pm)All year-around
  • Only one group should distribute food per day on the weekends. It is suggested that it be between the hours of 11:30am and 1:30pm. This group should be approved by the Homelessness Initiatives Coordinator.
  • Any group that brings food should distribute at least 40 feet away from the bridge in the parking lot. This is for both food and personal safety.
  • Food should not be left unattended. Food should be served by a volunteer member wearing gloves. No individuals residing under the bridge should touch the serving utensils. This is strictly for sanitary purposes.
  • Leftover food should not be left behind for consumption. It quickly becomes compromised because of the sanitary conditions.
  • Any garbage that is created as a result of food or items brought by the group, organization, service, or volunteers should be taken away when leaving. No garbage created by said parties should be left behind.
  • One critical item that can be brought year round is bottled water. This is especially true in the Spring and Summer time.


  • Any person going to the encampment must be over the age of 18 years.
  • For safety purposes, do not wear:
    • open toes shoes
    • high heels
    • Flip flops
  • Individuals residing in the encampment should not be allowed in any volunteer or group vehicles. This poses a risk for both the driver and the passenger.
  • It is strongly suggested that groups or volunteers avoid picking up syringes
  • Never give money to any individual living in the encampments, as it may be used to purchase drugs. Individuals can look to local community resources, for needed items.
  • In order to protect identities, photographs are not allowed. Photography takes away the dignity of those in the encampment and some of the residents may be fleeing dangerous circumstances.
  • No one should go to the encampment by themselves. This is a safety precaution. The encampment can become violent not just because of illicit activity, but also because of mental illness.
  • No one should enter any tent within the encampment. Tents can be dangerous and may have syringes that are not easily seen.

If you have further questions, contact Anil “Nilly” DaCosta at the contact information below.  Thank you for your cooperation.

Anil “Nilly” DaCosta, M.Ed.
Homelessness Initiatives Coordinator

225 Essex Street, 3rd Floor
Lawrence, MA 01840


Tom Duggan

Tom Duggan

Tom Duggan is president and publisher of The Valley Patriot Newspaper in North Andover, Massachusetts. He is an author, host of the Paying Attention TV/Radio Program, lectures on media bias and police issues, is a former Lawrence School Committeeman, former political director for Mass. Citizens Alliance, and a 1990 Police Survivor. You can email your comments to

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18 Responses to Lawrence Mayor Cracks Down on “Tent City” Homeless Encampment, Sets Up Police Command Under Bridge

  1. james Reply

    July 26, 2017 at 6:35 PM

    Clean up Lawrence get rid of the drugs & drinking that those homeless are doing under the bridge. there are plenty of shelters in Lawrence, police down there that see illegal activity should arrest them,

    • Carmen Reply

      July 28, 2017 at 11:41 AM

      I agree most of those people get ssi checks and spent all their money on drug’s, instead of looking for help or a place to live, finally the mayor and police are doing something, after all these years

  2. Marcus Reply

    July 27, 2017 at 1:48 AM

    Waste of time. Willy is going to reclaim the mayoral seat in a LANDSLIDE

    • John Reply

      July 28, 2017 at 7:18 PM

      Willy is a corrupt ****** gun deals go down in his night clubs the city will go to hell if he ever mayor again

  3. Antonio Hernandez Reply

    July 27, 2017 at 1:35 PM

    They should just kill these people

  4. Samantha Balsavage Reply

    July 28, 2017 at 3:39 AM

    Antonio Hernandez, you are a shit bag. This is by far one of the most ignorant comments I’ve ever witnessed. These people need help, as 99% of them are addicts, they are SICK. The sad thing is, not all of them are ready to stop and receive help yet. It is what it is. But to say they should just kill these people is so beyond wrong. I will be one year clean from drugs on August 20th and have recently given birth to my beautiful son. I am now out of legal trouble, and my family is starting to be more involved in my life again. I USED TO LIVE UNDER THAT BRIDGE. And I still would be if I had not found a will and a way to get better. What the city is doing is making it harder for these individuals to use and to cop drugs. What they’re doing is actually pretty smart. They’re finally making it bad enough for the addict to go get help. I wish somebody had done that to me while I was under there, maybe I would have endured less pain. So please think before you write such a terrible thing. These people are not just “junkies” “criminals”, etc they are people’s children, parents, brothers, sisters aunts, uncles. They are human just like you and me.

    • Melissa Reply

      November 22, 2017 at 12:53 AM

      You’re a good girl sam.. <3

  5. Samantha.swanson7 Reply

    July 28, 2017 at 3:43 PM

    Those are my bridge buddies/ muddy buddies they are my friends

  6. Carin cardone Reply

    July 30, 2017 at 3:00 PM

    Thank gid the city doing something about this I live in lawrence and near lawtons they hang out and you can tell there on drugs there work for food ok. Mayor do your job so far so good get rid of them . So sick about lawrence being the drug city it’s nasty down there

  7. RAYMOND Reply

    July 30, 2017 at 5:02 PM

    Amen worse these are people we created and thru our behavior brought forth theirs… be accountable try seeking solution in your mindset not nonsense,denial

  8. Richard Reply

    August 6, 2017 at 5:47 AM

    You cant force people to change they will when there ready. Ive been to that park its out of public view and they’ve been there for years. Political move for a last desperate action for Riviera before he loses his mayoral seat?

  9. Jimmy Reply

    August 7, 2017 at 6:50 AM

    The mayor and police don’t give a shit about the homeless. it’s all for show. I used to get my drugs there when my dealers were busy and I didn’t want to wait. You would see cars and addicts walking in and out of there.i KNOW people who sell there and are STILL selling with the command center there. Now they just have runners on bikes make delivers. It is doing NOTHING but giving a show and wasting the tax payers money. U really think they couldn’t of sat back and pulled over every car leaving or every person walking out of there and actually made arrests? Of course they could. A teenager from New Hampshire who knows nobody could go to Lawrence and get drugs in tent City because EVERYONE knows it’s there. So if a stupid teenager from another state can find them then why can’t police? I’m originally from Lowell and I grew up and lived there to see the transformation that City has made. It still has it’s issues but is no longer an armpit of Massachusetts. Get these people help, get rid of the problem (illegals) and give the people a chance at making a decent wage. I barely survive with what I make. Drug dealing is so abundant in Lawrence because the school system is one of the worst in THE COUNTRY so these people are damned before they even know it. This is more than a drug issue. It’s a society issue. Help them learn to help themselves.

  10. Pat Reply

    August 23, 2017 at 3:51 PM

    all the vacant buildings in Lawrence, and there are people living in tents under a bridge? What a disgrace! Where is our humanity? How about grabbing some of that money that is available to address the Opioid Crisis and rehab them… More Treatment, Sober Homes and so forth!

  11. Jenn Reply

    November 23, 2017 at 3:08 PM

    i feel like there should be something said about WHY this city haas so many addicts living on the streets… couldnt possibly be because of all the people here that SELL the drugs, could it??? everyone on here wants to bitch and moan about the “junkies” and :crackheads” that rddle the streets of their precious city but i can pretty much say with total conviction that 90% of the people that lve here either PERSONALLY sell, have a close family member who sells, or a friend thatsells….. who have no problem, reaping the fnancial benefits of selling to these people but then to bitch about the why the addicts are sleeping in their streets. take responsbilty and get to the root of the problem.

  12. Peach6972 Reply

    November 25, 2017 at 9:58 PM

    Did they move evryone out kf there? I thought they did

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  15. Tracey M. Keenan Reply

    July 18, 2019 at 5:37 PM

    my neices lived under that bridge for years, they even had their own tent to sleep how ever they got their drugs they got them,tthinking this was a normal way of the grace of god they are sober and living life that way today Lawrence is a bad place for anyone living in the surrounding areas and NH just needs to be burned to the ground, I left 25 years ago and never looked back

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