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The City of Cambridge will open the War Memorial Recreation Center beginning Tuesday as an emergency shelter to house homeless residents during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The recreation center, which sits on Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s campus, will open a quarantine area for people without stable housing who display symptoms of COVID-19. The city announced it will open the recreation center’s fieldhouse to asymptomatic homeless people later in the week.
“The War Memorial is an ideal location to insulate our most vulnerable residents who are in need due to the ongoing public health crisis, while providing them with ample space and various resources, including medical support, food, showers, bathrooms, changing space and other activities,” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said in a joint statement announcing the facility’s opening.
Homeless residents with confirmed positive tests will be housed in the 121-bed Freepoint Hotel. The city announced last Friday that the hotel space would open this week. The hotel will be staffed by medical personnel from local hospitals, as well as contractors hired by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
The recreation center facility will include 22 beds in the quarantine section and more than 100 beds in the fieldhouse, which will house those without symptoms. An additional 20 to 50 beds in the center’s gymnasium will be reserved for overflow self-isolation space for those who have tested positive.
Homeless shelters in the city have struggled to stay open as the number of coronavirus cases has grown. The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, which is staffed by Phillips Brooks House Association members, closed its doors late last month.
DePasquale, the city manager, said at a March 30 City Council meeting that he hoped to open the War Memorial facility by last Monday.
Harvard and MIT each donated $250,000 to help cover costs associated with opening the emergency shelter. The donations came after some Harvard students called on the University to house homeless residents in its now-empty dormitories.
City Councilor Jivan G. Sobrinho-Wheeler said Monday that he still hopes to see Harvard and MIT open their dorms for the homeless.
“Cambridge is a university community,” he said. “We have two universities with thousands of dorm rooms that aren’t being used and hotels that aren’t being used at this point. It makes sense as a place for unhoused residents to be able to shelter.”
In response to students’ calls last month, Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that the University was working with state and municipal governments to provide support during the pandemic and noted that hundreds of students currently remain in Harvard dorms.
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