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Cambridge Police Alternative HEART ‘Baffled’ Over Contract Delays

Contract negotiations between Cambridge city officials and the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team, an independent public safety alternative, have stalled.
Contract negotiations between Cambridge city officials and the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team, an independent public safety alternative, have stalled. By Julian J. Giordano
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

After more than a year of negotiations with Cambridge city officials, the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team remains puzzled by the lack of progress in contract negotiations with the city.

Cambridge HEART — a public safety alternative that operates independently of the city’s emergency response services — is currently in negotiations with the city to receive a year-long contract.

Co-director Corinne Espinoza said the organization, which they said provides “holistic” public safety and emergency support to Cambridge residents, has had over seven meetings with city leadership and has put together four separate applications in an effort to secure funding.

Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern — who has been working with HEART since its establishment — said that the organization “could add a lot of value and another layer of support” for residents.

Still, he said, contract negotiations between the city and HEART have “stalled.”

“There seems to be a little bit of a disconnect between the city and HEART in terms of what needs to be provided to the city in order to enter into a contract,” McGovern said. “HEART has provided some information to the city — but the city is saying it’s not the correct information that we need.”

Espinoza said they believe the organization could have launched an emergency response initiative months ago were the funding process more streamlined.

“We’re really unclear about why our attempts at getting a contract have not been successful,” they said. “Honestly, we’re a little baffled because publicly the city always says that it wants to fund us — but then they don’t fund us.”

According to city spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick, the city received a proposal and an organizational budget from HEART in December.

In a meeting on Dec. 20, “City Leadership provided feedback to the HEART team on what type of information all nonprofits, including HEART, are required to submit in order to be considered for funding,” Warnick wrote in a statement to The Crimson.

But Espinoza said that the organization has not received consistent instructions from officials.

“I’m given a set of instructions and I follow them — and then later, the instructions change and then I follow the new instructions, and then they change again,” they said. “We can’t know what’s going on.”

McGovern said that the organization’s relationship with the city initially got off to a “rough start,” after HEART was “very critical” of the Cambridge City Council and Cambridge Police Department.

“There wasn’t a lot of trust between HEART and the city and vice versa,” McGovern said. “I think the city was a little resistant to an organization that was new.”

While McGovern said the city has become more “appreciative” of HEART, he said he does not understand why contract negotiations between Cambridge and the organization have stalled.

In March, the City Council passed a policy order calling on City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 to fund HEART and negotiate a contract that would allow the organization to respond to certain 911 calls.

A few months later, Cambridge finalized a $300,000 grant to HEART using federal Covid-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. This week, the city received invoices totaling nearly $24,000 from HEART that are currently being processed, according to Warnick. HEART also requested and was reimbursed $30,000 from the city.

“The City has also been working with HEART to support requests they have made to amend their grant agreement,” Warnick wrote.

Espinoza said that on top of the ARPA funds, which they called “a special, emergency funding mechanism,” HEART will continue to seek a regular contract for services with city funds.

“The city publicly states that they want to fund HEART,” Espinoza said. “So I continue to work toward that goal, even though it has not been successful yet.”

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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