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