City Opens Winter Warming Center

Cambridge opened a warming center on Tuesday that will provide an alternative to shelters for the city’s homeless population during the coldest months of the year.

The city found that despite the many local human services organizations, people were falling through the cracks, according to Shelly Chevalier, planning and development manager for the department of human services programs. Some people were electing to not check into shelters for a variety of reasons, including many shelters’ sobriety policies. And shelters often mean chaotic atmospheres, Chevalier explains, which can be daunting for people with mental health issues or who have suffered from some form of trauma.

The warming center intends to be a low-threshold answer for the people who have suffered outdoors through this winter’s biting weather. There are only two requirements, according to Chevalier: that the person is an adult—the state handles family shelters, and the warming center isn’t equipped to care for children—and that they treat everyone at the center respectfully.

The warming center will be open in the basement of the Senior Center (806 Massachusetts Ave.) from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. every night through March. The center hosted 23 people on Tuesday night, and is expecting 25 to 35 people each night.

People who stay at the center will be given warm food, drink, and a yoga mat to sleep on.

Bay Cove Human Services, which runs a warming center in Boston and a shelter in Cambridge, is operating the Cambridge site. Bay Cove will have a security staff member present and will connect guests with any necessary first responders, provide information on helpful community resources, and show them the steps to be considered for housing assistance.

“The city was interested in investing in a solution, a response to the concerns that were raised, but we also wanted to make sure that in doing it that we worked with a partner that had the most expertise around delivering this service,” Chevalier says.

A Cambridge police officer will work by the warming center. Bay Cove staff and police will go up to people who are spending the night outside and offer transport to the warming center, according to Chevalier.

Mayor Marc McGovern advocated heavily for funding for the warming center to get into this year’s budget, Chevalier says. The budget allocates $250,000 for the center.

“We are really excited about having the opportunity to respond to this need, and we feel very fortunate to live in a community where we have so many partners who are helping to make this happen,” Chevalier says. “This is not at all a city-only endeavor, we couldn’t possibly be doing this without our nonprofit partners, without folks in the healthcare community, huge support from the police department, and also the residents of Cambridge have been really amazing in supporting this, and so we feel like this is a good example of the village rising to the call.”