Shelter Opens Without City Approval
Homeless to Find Temporary Lodging Near Kirkland House
A shelter for Cambridge's homeless population, to be staffed partly by Harvard students, will open today or tomorrow in the basement of University Lutheran Church near Kirkland House, although Cambridge officials have not granted it a permit.
City officials refused Tuesday to grant the shelter's founder, first-year Divinity School student Stewart Guernsey, a permit to open the shelter until it meets certain health and zoning regulations.
But a church committee led by Pastor Frederick Reisz moved later that evening to go ahead with the project, agreeing to lease the basement to Guernsey, and thereby relieving the church of any legal responsibility.
"We are opening up the shelter with full knowledge that at this time we do not have city permits," said Pastor Reisz.
"We think it unconscionable to allow people to sleep outside in the winter," Guernsey said yesterday, adding. "We propose to step in the breach until the City of Cambridge can come up with a realistic plan for a full-time shelter."
Cambridge officials, including Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci, will meet with Guernsey and Reisz today to discuss what action the City of Cambridge will take against the shelter.
The center will accomodate up to 20 home less men and women. It will be staffed solely by volunteers, including members of a committee of 35 Harvard undergraduates who are seeking affiliation with Phillips Brooks House.
The shelter will serve a population that Guernsey describes as "young transients" on a drop in basis and may issue short-term passes for up to two weeks.
Of the three other shelters in Cambridge, one takes only alcoholics, one is intended for battered women and children, and the third, Shelter, Inc, accepts only referrals from other social agencies.
David F. Whitty, director of Shelter, Inc., said yesterday that the shelter does not take drop-ins because of the danger of violent outbreaks among "clients."
To eliminate the possibility of a line of people on the street waiting for admittance. Shelter, Inc requires that prospective clients call in to be cleared, and then goes and picks them up.
"We never have violence here," Whitty said, adding. "That's one of the things that the screening process allows us to avoid."
Although Whitty said the new shelter would have to address security, he called their efforts admirable, saying, "I certainly support it personally."
Security measures at the basement shelter will include close contact with the Cambridge police, a slight pat-down at the door to check for weapons, and the presence of three to four volunteers all night, with one always awake, Reisz said.
He added that he hoped the intake of people will take only 10-15 minutes, preventing a line from forming in the street.
Volunteers among Harvard undergraduates said they were enthusiastic about the effort.
"It seems like something that could work," said Jess A. Velona '83, co-coordinator of the undergraduate committee. "We have a lot to gain from it from the amount of impact we have on the issue, as people look at Harvard and what we do."
Guernsey said that the shelter has also received a great deal of support from churches and the Divinity School.
"We're folks who have a lot, and the folks we're dealing with have great needs," said Guernsey. He added, "It's something that can be a real boon to the community."