Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Salvation Army near Cambridge’s Central Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The city is stepping in to keep a 35-bed homeless shelter open at the Salvation Army in Central Square and even improve it, but will not stop looking for funding from the state and other sources that could enable a step back, officials said Monday.

Cambridge will have responsibility for keeping the doors open for at least a year, officials suggested.

The charity was on the verge of closing the shelter March 31 because it refused to reapply for a $200,000 state grant that would force it to accept unhoused people it would ordinarily consider a risk to the safety of others. The Army’s Cambridge Corps Community Center at 402 Massachusetts Ave. includes a day care along with services such as offering a daily meal and a pantry.

“In the middle of what is still sort of the winter and certainly a cold season, we would not want to see this really important resource shut down,” City Manager Yi-An Huang told city councillors at their Monday meeting.

To keep the shelter open, expand its hours and offer more services – including being onsite to try to find permanent housing for its guests – city staff have signed a contract for April 1 to June 30, the end of the fiscal year, and expect to ask councillors for money in the annual budget to keep operations going for the year that follows. The annual cost will be $1.08 million, said Ellen Semonoff, assistant city manager for human services.

Staff have been in “pretty constant communication” with the state Department of Housing and Community Development about its return to funding. “There is at least some reasonable possibility,” Semonoff said. The contract spells out that the city will look for alternate funding sources for the shelter.

The Salvation Army in Central Square – technically in the Lafayette Square end – got a small amount of federal emergency grant funding via the city during the Covid pandemic, but has never before gotten any city taxpayer dollars, Semonoff said.

Cambridge has 500 people in need of shelter on any given night, according to a January 2022 report by a city-run Ad Hoc Working Group on Homelessness led by city councillor Marc McGovern. Councillors have called the loss of the Salvation Army beds “unthinkable.”

“We’re providing a higher level of funding than the state to ensure there are wages paid and that there’s adequate staffing. If the state were to be able to fund, there would likely still be a need for some city funding,” Semonoff said. There’s a “real possibility” of an expansion of dollars for individual shelters, though, “and the state is very aware of the needs of the Salvation Army. We are in a reasonably good position, but we really don’t know when our funding would get largely replaced.”