Thursday, July 18, 2024

Somerville’s Armory building, seen in June 2022. (Photo: Marc Levy)

An overnight warming center opened Monday in Somerville on the second floor of its Armory arts building at 191 Highland Ave. The center, which opened as temperatures plunged and the first substantial snows of the winter lingered on streets, runs seven nights a week from 6:45 p.m. to 7 a.m and can service up to 20 adults a night.

“Somerville’s Overnight Warming Center is a safe space welcoming adult residents experiencing homelessness to spend the night safe from the environmental hazards of the street during the winter months,” said the center’s page on the city’s website.

Mayor Katjana Ballantyne said the opening of the warming center reflects the city’s commitment to providing shelter, dignity, compassion and “supportive services to our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”

In September, $200,000 in federal Covid relief funds were allocated for opening an overnight warming center. City councilor Matthew McLaughlin filed orders the month before calling for immediate attention to the homelessness crisis in East Somerville.

Before the Armory warming center, people experiencing homelessness in East Somerville relied on transportation to services provided by the Somerville Homeless Coalition in West Somerville.

Guests of the new center are provided free hot and cold meals, water, bathrooms, yoga mats and space to sleep, according to a press release from Ballantyne’s office.

The primary concern for the center, according to its webpage, is to “ensure optimal health and safety for all guests, staff and nearby neighbors.”

The center is available only to adults experiencing homelessness. Families and those with children are encouraged to call the Somerville Office of Housing Stability at (617) 625-6600, Ext. 2581, for referral to family resources and shelters.

The center closes March 24, the press release said.

“I want to thank city staff and our partners at Housing Families for their collaboration in opening this potentially life-saving center. Because of their hard work, the city can now provide warmth, safety and community for any adult resident that needs help this winter,” Ballantyne said.

Cambridge opened a warming center in Central Square in January 2018 under mayor Marc McGovern. Now a city councillor, McGovern said in November that the center has become a well-recognized resource, drawing attention from other communities – including in Somerville, where a social worker said they send clients to Cambridge to keep warm.

“Somerville should open their own, they shouldn’t be sending people to Cambridge to provide services,” McGovern said. “Similarly, Somerville has a day center that they just opened. Cambridge should open a day center in our own community, we shouldn’t be sending people to Somerville.”

Adam Sennott contributed to this report.