City Manager Addresses Latest Conversations Regarding Our Unhoused Community

August 27, 2023 • 1 day ago

A Statement from City Manager Yi-An Huang

Over the last weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations with City Councilors, business and nonprofit leaders, and residents about how the city supports our unhoused community while also providing safe and thriving public spaces. At times, these tensions can become challenging, and we have recently experienced an increase in concerning behaviors and greater complaints from neighborhoods and/or local businesses.

We are a community that is led by compassion and caring for people in need. Over the years, we have established shelter beds, permanent supportive housing units, and human service programs as well as supported a thriving set of nonprofit and advocacy organizations. While many of our neighboring communities have no homeless shelter capacity or very few shelter beds, Cambridge has over 300 shelter beds. The City has also provided more than $2 million in city funds to preserve shelter beds and to enhance services within the shelter system, along with using several million dollars in ARPA funds to support our unhoused community. We have also made significant investments in new permanent supportive housing, with a 62-unit building at 116 Norfolk St. planned to serve individuals transitioning out of homelessness. Every day, I hear moving stories of how our nonprofits, city staff, business associations, and police officers are engaging the unhoused community, providing them with care, connecting them with services, and going above and beyond to help.

We are also managing a difficult tension to maintain public spaces where all residents feel safe and businesses and communities thrive. The Department of Public Works and the Central Square Business Improvement District are doing heroic work every day picking up discarded needles, cleaning up human waste, and disposing of trash. Our police are building relationships, setting expectations on appropriate behavior and enforcing our laws, when necessary. While many of our long-standing unhoused residents have been part of the fabric of our community for years, we have seen difficulties with some newcomers. I’m so grateful for the compassionate approach our city takes in getting to know each individual, but also being firm about what is allowed in our city.

I wish there was an easy answer on the path forward. The reality is that we are a part of a much larger regional challenge. Boston has ten times the unhoused population as Cambridge and is facing a significantly harder dynamic at Mass and Cass. Longer-term options are being explored at the Shattuck and Long Island, but they are many years away. And while this is a critically important issue for state leadership and resources, an equally dire situation exists for the more than 5,600 families who are now living in state shelters driven by a national migration crisis.  

The City is committed to working with the City Council, nonprofit and advocacy leaders, senior community, faith leaders, business associations, and the unhoused community to balance multiple needs and make decisions on new investments. I have already held cross-departmental meetings to review the numerous support and services that are already in place and I’m excited about the opportunity that will come with new opportunities from opioid settlement funding. There isn’t a silver bullet, but I have hope in our community to wrestle with the complexity, nuance, and real challenges that we are facing – and to do this together with compassion and empathy. 

Page was posted on 8/27/2023 5:28 PM

Page was last modified on 8/27/2023 5:29 PM

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