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Opening Up Harvard's Spaces

By Amy Y. Li
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, private universities and state university systems around the country are offering their now-vacant dormitories to local hospitals to alleviate the burden of the public health crisis. As surges in coronavirus patients overwhelm hospitals, these much-needed spaces relieve the pressure on hospitals and are essential to public health efforts. The University has begun to respond in recent days, partnering with MIT to provide $500,000 in funding for a temporary emergency shelter for homeless residents of Cambridge. Harvard has also offered its Harvard Square Hotel to house emergency services and healthcare workers who need to stay in close proximity to hospitals and away from their families.

We encourage the University to do more. Harvard should expand its efforts by expressing its willingness to collaborate more closely with the City of Cambridge and the State of Massachusetts, especially with regard to repurposing its facilities. While the safety of students and staff still living on campus must obviously be protected, this is an all hands on deck type of crisis. Harvard has significant financial and physical resources that can be used to combat the coronavirus and further help those in need within our community.

The discourse around repurposing dorm space has largely focused on alleviating hospital capacity. While many universities offering their physical spaces have earmarked their dormitories for COVID-19 patients or healthcare workers, we believe Harvard should also especially consider using its physical resources to support the local homeless community, whose situation is in no small part related to the University’s presence in Cambridge hiking up housing prices for decades.

Coronavirus inevitably compounds the danger homelessness presents. Homeless shelters are perennially cramped spaces — an issue compounded by shelters being forced to close and turn people away amid the outbreak — and unless these spaces are de-densified, a humanitarian disaster awaits. It may have already arrived — a devastating 30 percent of homeless Bostonians screened for coronavirus thus far have tested positive. Homeless Cantibrigians in shelters are unable to adopt best practices for limiting the virus’s spread, such as social distancing and self-isolation, and are much more likely to contract the virus and face dangerous consequences without access to healthcare. These circumstances not only expose an already at-risk group to more unaffordable health risks, but will also complicate efforts to stem community infections.

We have a long, difficult road ahead before a return to more normal times. In the face of these challenges, Harvard should consider what it can do without compromising the safety of its current students and staff. By collaborating with the state of Massachusetts and the city of Cambridge, Harvard can play its part in helping combat COVID-19.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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