It Takes A Community…A new shelter for the unhoused

I read the press release below with great pleasure knowing that the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA), its members and community partners played a role in making this happen.

Sometime in mid-February of 2018, I met with Yanira Burgos, the Director of Community Relations and Nicole Breslin, CEO and President of Youville House/Youville Place an assisted living facility located at 1573 Cambridge Street. After joining them for lunch and a discussion about them becoming a member of the HSBA (which they did), they gave me a tour of their facility.

I could not contain my excitement or my surprise when I realized just outside stood the old Holy Ghost Hospital, eventually renamed, Youville Hospital where my mother worked for nearly 20 years. I immediately inquired about the building and discovered it was not being used.

After having just partnered with Mayor McGovern on his annual “warmth” sleeping bag drive, I imagined the possibilities that building could provide to the unhoused in Cambridge. 

Since then, whenever possible locations for shelters were mentioned, I would promote that building to anyone who would listen. I suspect that many of them, including Marc McGovern, Denise Simmons, and other councillors were listening and have been working hard toward the same goal.     

This past May, I mentioned the building to Commissioner Branville Bard and Deputy Superintendent Rob Lowe. Commissioner Bard brought the idea to City Manager, Louis DePasquale and just about 12 weeks later, these gentlemen brokered a deal. Their leadership, empathy and desire to help those in need furthers my pride in our fair city. Cambridge is a special place; one where the needs of the people in our community are always the priority. We witness the nurturing of these priorities daily, but particularly so, we’ve witnessed these efforts during the COVID 19 crisis. Food, shelter, medicine, and basic needs like public toilets, showers, electricity, hand-washing stations and face masks were almost immediately made available to our unhoused population. These things don’t happen without true leadership and an unwavering sense of duty. I could not be prouder of Commissioner Bard, and the men and women of the CPD and Lou DePasquale and his extraordinary team.           

I am also proud of and grateful to the Harvard Square Business Association board of directors, officers and members. The resources and breadth of our mission allows us to create partnerships and participate in community-building activities that, to some, might seem outside the scope of a business association. However, our officers and directors through example and means, ensure that our mission and tagline of “caring for the Square and the people in it” are carried out.            

Marie Marguerite d’Youville founded the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, known as the Grey Nuns, in 1737. When my mom was about to retire, there was a bust of “Mother Youville” that was to be discarded. My mom asked permission to take it, which was granted. My dad trekked down to 1573 Cambridge Street with his pickup truck and promptly installed Mother Youville in our backyard in Somerville. When they retired to my dad’s beloved Vermont, they took Mother Youville with them. She is firmly ensconced at our family home in the hills of central Vermont…halfway between Montreal and Cambridge.

The picture of Mother Youville in the snow was taken in February of 2018. Her devotion of ministering to the poor in body, mind and spirit lives on.

-Denise Jillson      

December 16th, 2020

City of Cambridge

Contact: Lee Gianetti, Director of Communications & Community Relations   For Immediate Release   New Transition Wellness Center Opens Today at Spaulding Hospital
Will Serve as Temporary Adult Homeless Shelter for Non-COVID-19 Residents
Cambridge, Mass., December 16, 2020 —
Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale announced today the opening of the Transition Wellness Center (TWC), a new temporary emergency homeless shelter at the Spaulding Hospital. Residents from the shelter at the War Memorial Recreational Center started to transition to the TWC on Wednesday, December 16.  

The City-funded TWC will host 58 beds and serve as an adult homeless shelter for guests who test negative for COVID-19. It will be located on the first and second floors of the east wing of the Spaulding Hospital, which is located at 1575 Cambridge Street and was vacant prior to the renovations. The City of Cambridge will fund the entirety of the shelter operation. This project is federal CARES Act funding eligible and the City expects to submit approximately $3.4 million for reimbursement to support this critical initiative.

“I want to thank Spaulding Hospital for leasing the City part of its facility on Cambridge Street so that we could create the Transition Wellness Center. This temporary facility will allow the City to continue supporting our most vulnerable populations for the duration of the pandemic,” said Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. “Since April, the City has invested significant staff and financial resources to ensure people experiencing homelessness in Cambridge have access to critical support systems. I want to thank Mayor Siddiqui and Councillor McGovern for their leadership on our temporary shelter initiatives, and I want to thank the City’s Public Works team and Spaulding Hospital’s construction teams that have worked quickly to construct this new facility.” 

“We remain committed to working with Bay Cove Human Services and will continue to provide the highest level of community safety as the shelter transitions to the Transition Wellness Center,” said Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr. “The new location at Spaulding Hospital will have minimal impact on the neighboring community and is ideal for supporting our most vulnerable residents in need of these important facilities.”     “The Transition Wellness Center joins the Winter Warming Center, the Multi-Service Center and other Cambridge nonprofits in a shared mission to provide safe shelter for people experiencing homelessness and to connect them with resources that promote their wellbeing – especially during the winter months,” said Ellen Semonoff, Assistant City Manager for Human Services. “The TWC’s opening is a testament to the tireless efforts of City staff, elected officials, our partners at Bay Cove, and local providers across the city.”   “The more we can do to keep all Cambridge residents safe and healthy, the greater the chance we have to continue to mitigate the spread of this pandemic, including among those who experience homelessness,” said Dr. Assaad Sayah, Commissioner of Public Health.

Arrangements to transition residents out of the temporary emergency shelter at the War Memorial Recreational Center will be coordinated by Bay Cove Human Services. They will focus on ensuring a seamless relocation for impacted residents to the TWC or Bay Cove’s CASPAR Emergency Services Center shelter at 240 Albany Street. Once the transition is complete, the temporary shelter at the War Memorial will be deconstructed and a deep, thorough cleaning will be conducted. Additionally, the Cambridge Winter Warming Center opened on Tuesday, December 1 and will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through April 15, 2021. Located at 806 Massachusetts Avenue and accessible through the building’s Green Street entrance, the Warming Center provides a safe space for adults experiencing homelessness to rest, sleep and have access to beverages, a hot meal, and bathrooms during the winter months. At all times, the maximum capacity of the Warming Center will be 30 guests to allow for safe social distancing.

The temporary emergency shelter at the War Memorial, which opened in April 2020, helped the City address the urgent needs of Cambridge residents who were experiencing homelessness during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 public health crisis that emerged this spring. It allowed existing shelters to reduce overcrowding to make guests in all of Cambridge’s shelters safer and to provide a site that guests who were leaving the shelters could move to. The War Memorial also provided important shelter for guests who had been served by seasonal shelters that were closing such as the Warming Center and Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. 

For additional information about the new Transition Wellness Center, please visit the dedicated webpage: Any community questions or concerns can be directed to or by calling 617-349-9770.