MIT Negotiates With Tent City
Little Progress Made in Squatters' Demands
Although MIT officials yesterday negotiated for three hours with representatives of Tent City, there are no easy solutions in sight for the evicted homeless squatters.
MIT officials said at yesterday's meeting--their second since the November 20 eviction from MIT property--that they will take part in a coalition between private and public sectors to find a solution to the homeless problem. Officials also said they will attend another negotiation meeting later this month.
Philip F. Mangano, the city-appointed mediator between the two groups, said the activists made clear their demands for attention to the homeless problem and are awaiting a response from MIT.
But Assistant to the President Walter Milne said that although the homeless issue is "everybody's problem," he does not think MIT should be expected to find a solution on its own.
"We believe the public sector has the lead," he said. "We're a private real estate owner."
Activists said that community pressure and national press attention have forced MIT to negotiate with the homeless. "It would not have happened without Tent City," said David J. Glenn, an MIT graduate student and advocate for the homeless.
MIT added fuel to the fire this week, when it paid for a $2000 full-page advertisement in the Cambridge Chronicle outlining MIT's standpoint on the Tent City issue. The ad also criticized a Chronicle editorial that had faulted MIT for its handling of the eviction, which led to the arrest of 10 people.
Tent City squatters had occupied the site for one month before MIT evicted them from the land, which is part of the controversial University Park development site near Central Square.
Officials decided to buy an ad instead of writing a letter to the editor because they felt unable to state their case in a shorter letter form, said Milne, who co-authored the ad. Milne said MIT took out the ad to present facts he said the media had neglected. He said he was unaware of the price of the ad.
But several people involved in the Tent City issue said the ad had an adverse effect on relations between the activists and the university.
"It calls into question the good faith of MIT," said Jim Stewart, who runs the First Church Shelter for the homeless and is a Tent City supporter.
"It's a bad [public relations] thing from beginning to end," said David Wiegand, editor of the Chronicle and author of the editorial critical of MIT.
Last night's meeting brought mixed reactions from participants, who included activist and MIT Professo. Mel King,MIT students and officials, and Tent Cityadvocates and representatives.
"I'm shaky on the whole thing,' said formerTent City Mayor Evelyr Parks. She said MITofficials implied they would not satisfy TentCity's demands for use of the three MIT-ownedhouses on Blanche Street that are part of theUniversity Park Development Plan. The houses,which have been vacant for 14 years, have been thefocus of Tent City residents' protests.
But Milne said, "I think the fact that we'retalking is a concrete step which we weren't doingbefore."
Tent City residents are still meeting severaltimes a week to plan their course of action and todiscuss which 12 of the original Tent Cityresidents will live in a River Street house,offered rent free through March by Cambridgelandlord Alex Steinbergh