Veterans of Tent City Seek Home for Spring
Nine former Tent City residents may be homeless once more at the end of the month, but they have only praise for the Cambridge landlord who took them in for the winter.
Alex Steinbergh, one of the city's largest landlords, loaned two apartments to the former Tent City residents after their November eviction from an MIT-owned vacant lot near Central Square, setting an eviction date of March 31.
"I've made promises to people that I have to keep," said Steinbergh. "They [the former Tent City students] have been great--no problems really. I've really been happy with my decision. They are a fine bunch of people."
The nine homeless people had spent a month living in tents on the lot, where MIT plans to build a 350-room hotel as part of its 27-acre University Park development. On the morning of November 20, campus police evicted the group of neighborhood activists and homeless people sleeping in the camp, arresting eight.
"We are just glad that this man opened his heart to us," said Evelyn Parks, former mayor of Tent City. "He had the courage to step forward," she said.
Four of Steinbergh's nonpaying tenants said they plan to find their own apartment, with help from the Boston-based Church of the Covenant and the city of Cambridge.
"We are in the midst of trying to find a place to live. We've decided to put our money together and get a place," said Parks. She said she was optimistic about finding a new apartment. "We have Alex helping us, some city fund is going to help us and we are working on it too. We are going to check out another place today," she said.
The Cambridge Department of Human Services will help the four with their security deposit, said Cambridge Emergency Services Coordinator Philip F. Mangano. But he said they would try to pull their own weight afterwards. "They have indicated by establishing monthly incomes that they can pay the monthly rent," he added.
Mangano noted that Tent City's motto is, "homeless, not helpless." While his department has worked to advice the tenants on finance and employment, he said that "these people really want to be independent." Nevertheless, Mangano said the city is ready to step in and aid the tenants in the event that they cannot afford their rent.
Parks and Mangano said the Church of the Covenant helped the Tent City veterans to adjust to life in the apartments by providing "facilitators"--live-in supervisors and building managers for the donated housing.
The church has also bought food and paid the apartments' telephone bills with offerings taken for the former Tent City residents. Other helpers included Project Bread, which gave the tenants a grant for their initial expenses, and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, which provided them with furniture.
"The contract we have with the city is basically managing the houses," said Erick Schenkel, pastor of the Church of the Covenant. "There were facilitators there daily, until recently, to help them make the adjustment from living on the street to living in a community."
Schenkel said the adjustment period is over now, and that one resident now makes up schedules for household chores and is planning the upcoming move.
The pastor said he expected they would succeed in their quest for a permanent home, but he said they would not owe that success to MIT.
Walter L. Milne, special assistant to the president of MIT, said the university has given approximately $500 each month to the Church of the Covenant. But Schenkel said, "MIT's involvement was not necessary to make this work. MIT belatedly made some contribution which has not been essential."
Asked about the upcoming eviction date, Milne said the university would probably work with the city to help the tenants find a new home. "But we do not have any housing for them if that is what you mean," he said.
Tent City veterans and their supporters have unsuccessfully sought a meeting with MIT President Paul Gray since November.
"MIT has caused the housing problem in Cambridge, and to the best of my knowledge MIT will not take any steps to help them," said James Stewart, one of several local activists who have cooperated to help the Tent City veterans.
Stewart added that he could not see "how any non-confrontational solution can be found. A couple of hundred dollars will not fix the housing crunch in Cambridge."