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Healey Administration Opens Shelter for Unhoused Families in Cambridge Govt. Building

The Massachusetts state government opened an overnight shelter for unhoused families in East Cambridge last month.
The Massachusetts state government opened an overnight shelter for unhoused families in East Cambridge last month. By Marina Qu
By Laurel M. Shugart and Olivia W. Zheng, Crimson Staff Writers

The Massachusetts state government opened an overnight shelter for unhoused families in the Registry of Deeds building in East Cambridge late last month.

The shelter’s development came as Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 neared a Dec. 31 deadline to allocate $50 million in state funds toward sheltering unhoused families with children and pregnant individuals who qualify for the state’s 1983 “right to shelter” law. Under Massachusetts’s Emergency Assistance program, households who meet the requirements for the right to shelter law can apply for long-term housing provided by the state.

The shelter in East Cambridge will provide temporary overflow housing for those who cannot be immediately placed into an EA unit.

The shelter operates on the second and third floors of the building. Though it accommodated 20 to 30 families when it was first opened, its occupancy has since increased to the maximum of 70 families or about 200 people, according to Cambridge spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick.

City and state officials stressed that the shelter will provide only temporary support as families search for permanent housing options.

Blair Brown, assistant secretary for strategic initiatives and legislative affairs at the Executive Office of Education, said at a Dec. 28 community meeting that the state hopes to “help families move along in a relatively quick period of time” to avoid disruptions to their children’s educations.

“Our hope is families will not enroll in Cambridge Public Schools unless they’re settling more permanently in Cambridge,” Brown said.

Warnick echoed this sentiment in an interview, saying that “most families will be there no longer than five to 10 days.”

The shelter operates only as an overnight shelter, meaning that families register at 6 p.m. each night. During the day, the state transports families to family welcome centers where they can get assistance in finding more permanent housing, Brown said.

“By going to family welcome centers, they are connecting with workers and working on what’s their next move,” Brown added. “That helps keep the families on the path towards keeping them out of a very temporary, overnight shelter.”

During the Dec. 28 meeting, Cambridge City Councilor and then-Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said that eligibility for the EA program “extends to those fleeing domestic violence, facing no fault eviction, or with children exposed to substantial health and safety risks” in addition to “migrants, refugees or asylum seekers.”

“I’m proud that the city stepped up so quickly to assist the state in managing this crisis,” Siddiqui said. “By doing so, we are showing that we are, in fact, a very welcoming community.”

The shelter is one of the first in the area to prioritize families, city housing liaison Maura Pensak said in the meeting. But Joyce Tavon, the CEO of the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance, said in an email that individual unhoused adults have no right to shelter, leaving many vulnerable this winter.

“When shelters fill up — and every shelter across the state for individuals reports being at or over capacity — then people are left to fend for themselves,” Tavon wrote. “It’s also left to local service providers and those cities and towns to cobble together a response.”

“Given this massive humanitarian crisis that is going on for migrant families, there’s not a whole lot of additional space, staffing, or funding to address the quiet crisis happening for individuals,” Tavon added.

—Staff writer Laurel M. Shugart can be reached at Follow them on X @laurelmshugart or on Threads @laurel.shugart.

—Staff writer Olivia W. Zheng can be reached at Follow her on X @oliviawzg.

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