The death of 22-year-old Io Nachtwey, a homeless woman from Hawaii who frequented the Pit in Harvard Square, is a tragic reminder that no one is completely safe, even in our own neighborhood. But subsequent calls by City Councillor Michael A. Sullivan and others to close the Pit, though well-meaning, are misguided. The Pit and those who frequent it do not pose any significant danger to the surrounding community, and the City Council was right to amend Sullivan’s original proposal and to focus on protecting Pit regulars rather than protecting Cambridge from them.
The Pit, like any public place, can be dangerous at times. According to recent reports, some have allegedly attempted to use the Pit as a gang recruiting ground, and Nachtwey is believed to have been killed because she resisted those attempts.
Yet the recent murder provides no reason to close the Pit and prevent Cambridge residents from sitting there. Many of those who frequent the Pit have few other places to go. Homeless young people such as Nachtwey are made especially vulnerable because they lack access to a night-time shelter. Dispersing them during the day by closing the Pit would make them even less safe. Pushed out of the Pit, homeless youth might congregate in more isolated, less easily monitored areas where they would have little access to help or protection from local authorities.
Of course, not all of those who frequent the Pit are homeless; many of the Pit regulars simply choose to meet there, listening to live bands amid the bustle of a busy city. Those young people have as much right to the public space of Harvard Square as any student. The Pit must be kept safe for them, for students and for all members of the Cambridge community.
Mayor Anthony D. Galluccio was right to call for additional public safety measures in the wake of the murder, saying, “Our kids should be safe anytime, anywhere.” Cambridge has an obligation to protect all of its residents. However, it will take more policing to make Pit regulars such as Nachtwey safe.
We applaud city’s efforts to reach at-risk individuals in the Square and to include the Pit within the umbrella of many existing social service programs. It is only through more attention to the Pit, rather than attempts to close it down, that tragedies such as Nachtwey’s death can be avoided in the future.