Tuesday, July 23, 2024

East Cambridge’s Registry of Deeds Building will become part state emergency family homeless shelter starting Friday evening. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A shelter for homeless families will be opened by the state at the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds Building at 208 Cambridge St., East Cambridge, according to a Wednesday press release from Cambridge officials.

The Safety Net Family Shelter will house 20 to 30 families temporarily starting Friday evening, and “ultimately be able to accommodate up to 70 families with cots and amenities” with 24-hour on-site security, the city said.

All expenses are being handled by the state, not Cambridge, city spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said late Wednesday. There’s no specific timeline for the shelter use, but it’s “not a week or two,” Warnick said, and will likely be “six months or longer.”

Aside from the Registry, which is open during daytime business hours, there is significant unused square footage in the structure that makes it “an appealing location” for the shelter use, Warnick said.

Families are expected to rotate out after five to 10 days. Some of them are likely overflow from the temporary shelter at Eastern Nazarene College’s Cove Fine Arts Center in Quincy, which has reached capacity, Warnick said. State officials have said Massachusetts has 7,500 migrant and unhoused families in emergency shelters and hotels, which was straining capacity in early December and forcing a search for additional locations such as the Registry. 

“The site, which will be used in the evening and overnight hours, will ensure that families – who are initially assessed at a state intake site and confirmed to be eligible for emergency assistance – have a warm and safe place to stay overnight” until a longer-term unit comes available, the city said. Transportation to daytime resources is due to be arranged. “While many of the families entering the family shelter system are migrants, refugees or asylum seekers, families who are fleeing domestic violence, a no-fault eviction or whose children are exposed to a substantial health and safety risk may be eligible to apply.”

City Manager Yi-An Huang said the city’s Office of the Housing Liaison is coordinating between Cambridge and the state. An interdepartmental working group – including the City Manager’s Office, Cambridge’s public safety departments, Cambridge Public Schools, Department of Human Service Programs, the Human Rights Commission, Community Safety Department, Cambridge Public Library, Cambridge Public Health and the City Solicitor’s Office – has been meeting to ensure there are necessary resources. 

“We recognize the crisis occurring across Massachusetts and the nation. We are committed to welcoming the families coming to Cambridge and ensuring they are well cared for,” Huang said.

The collaboration with the state will help “ensure any potential impacts to the immediate neighborhood are minimized,” Huang said.

The Cambridge Public Health Department may be providing vaccinations to families in the shelter, chief public health officer Derek Neal said Thursday at a meeting of the Cambridge Health Alliance committee on population health.

“My concern is outbreaks,” Neal said, adding that most of the shelter residents will be children under 5. Committee chair Lori Lander, a co-founder of the volunteer organization Many Helping Hands, said she assumed CHA will “be called upon to provide medical care” to some residents.

The EA Emergency Family Shelter system is for families with children under 21 years of age and people who are pregnant. Families who are facing homelessness can apply by phone at (866) 584-0653 or visit mass.gov/emergency-housing-assistance.

As information becomes available, the city will share it in its daily email to the community available at cambridgema.gov, according to the Wednesday press release.

Sue Reinert contributed to this report.