Cambridge Kicks Off Hunger and Homelessness Observance

Head of City Aid for Homeless People Tells Council Expanded Programs Can't Keep Up With Crisis

The increased efforts of city agencies and volunteers cannot keep pace with the growing numbers of homeless individuals and families, a city official told the City Council last night.

"Last year, there were a number of unmet needs: we needed a shelter for women, more family transitional housing, more day programs, more child care, more meals for families, additional funds to assist homeless individuals and families in making downpayments on permanent apartments, and access to medical and mental health programs," said Philip F. Mangano, emergency services coordinator with the city's Department of Human Service Programs (DHSP).

"We've made progress on all fronts," he added.

Last night Mangano told the Council that 65 new beds slated for three local shelters will be installed during the week--a 60 percent increase over the current total. They will include 40 at the new women's shelter in the Cambridge Armory. The other 25 beds will go to shelters at the YMCA, YWCA and Salvation Army, said Mangano.

His testimony helped mark Cambridge's "Hunger/Homelessness Awareness Week," which began Sunday. Mangano said it was designed to enhance awareness of extreme poverty in Cambridge and to help community groups provide food, clothing and shelter for its victims.

On Tuesday, six new units of transitional housing for homeless families will open at the St. Paul's AME parsonage, Linsey Lee, the city DHSP's resource coordinator for emergency programs, said in an interview this week. The families will stay there while they look for permanent homes.

Mangano said last night that Cambridge will be able to accommodate a total of 18 homeless families--but that the city has 23 families to care for, so it still needs more space.

A child care center run by the Salvation Army is now open five days per week, Mangano said, up from two days per week last year.

Also, medical and mental health workers now advise homeless people at the Salvation Army and work with families at transitional housing units, Mangano added.

The number of homeless individuals and families is growing by 15 percent each year nationally, Mangano said. "The most frightening part is that families, and therefore children, are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population."

According the DHSP statistics, 2500 families are on the waiting list for permanent housing in Cambridge, 500 adults have no permanent living arrangements. Half of all homeless people are children, Mangano added.

A citywide food drive sponsored by the Cambridge Economic Opportunities Committee began Monday and will continue until Thanksgiving Day, while Cambridge Hospital is running a clothing drive, Mangano said.

"God Bless the Child," an ABC television movie about family homelessness, will be shown free of charge at the Cambridge Public Library's main branch tomorrow night, Mangano said.

Other events planned for the week include two concerts to benefit homeless families, two seminars for people who provide support services to the homeless, a concert and puppet show for homeless children and a benefit auction of works by local artists, Mangano said. The week will end with a Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by Cambridge/Somerville Elderly Services.

City officials will distribute public and private grant money to local groups that aid the homeless at a City Hall ceremony on Friday. Contributors include the St. George Fund, Cove Trust and the Cambridge Fund for the Homeless.

The St. George Fund and Cove Trust are private contributors to programs to fight homelessness, while the Cambridge Fund for the Homeless is administered by the city DHSP, Lee said.

City Aid Fund

Created in the winter of 1986, the Fund helps meet the immediate needs of homeless people in Cambridge, and also helps them make downpayments or deposits on permanent homes, she said.

Lee said the fund also supports a multiservice center for the homeless in Central Square that offers help looking for housing, counselors for homeless teenagers, mental health workers and a medical clinic linked to Cambridge City Hospital.

One recent contribution to the Cambridge Fund for the Homeless came from the WEEI/590 news radio station, which staged a fundraising effort from a broadcasting trailer parked in Harvard Square this weekend.