Sunday, July 14, 2024

East Cambridge’s Registry of Deeds Building, now part state emergency family homeless shelter. (Photo: Marc Levy)

City officials and legislators have been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to persuade the state to keep Cambridge’s overflow temporary shelter for migrant families open around the clock instead of closing during daytime hours. One result is that migrant children newly enrolled in Cambridge schools may have no place to go when they get out of classes.

The shelter at the Registry of Deeds building on Cambridge Street in East Cambridge was open only for 12 hours overnight – from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. – when it opened Dec. 20. And the city wasn’t enrolling children in school, in line with state policy that discouraged it until families obtained longer-term housing.

But that policy conflicted with a federal law that requires homeless children to be offered local school enrollment as well as transportation to their original school if they move elsewhere. And the more than 50 families at the shelter weren’t finding longer-term housing as fast as state officials expected.

The city began enrolling kids during the last week of January. And shelter hours expanded to 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. “due in part to our repeated advocacy and concerns,” city spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said Monday. Shelter residents have received information about the city’s libraries, and about 15 migrant families a day are visiting the Valente library branch in East Cambridge, Warnick said.

The Chelsea community agency La Colaborativa started offering a walk-in day program to Cambridge shelter residents Feb. 20. The announcement of the program said transportation is included but didn’t provide details. Warnick said the state “facilitated the distribution of MBTA cards and EBT [food stamps] cards.” The simplest way to get to the Chelsea site by public transportation involves taking the subway and a bus.

Accommodating the new students when the shelter is closed has become a major issue for Cambridge schools, School Committee member Rachel Weinstein said at a City Council and School Committee roundtable meeting Feb. 5. According to minutes of the meeting, Weinstein said that “what is front and center at this moment is the many migrant families and what is happening between the hour of 7 a.m. when they are kicked out of the shelter and the children have to come to school and can’t get back in until the end of the day.” She apparently referred to shelter hours before they were expanded.

Weinstein said the city and state must act “so our young people and caregivers can be in a warm place in the winter and have some programming and access to other resources,” according to the minutes.

City schools spokesperson Sujata Wycoff refused to say exactly how many students from the shelter are enrolled, turning down the request because of “our respect for their privacy.” She added that she couldn’t give a precise number because a family’s housing situation “can vary by the day. The fluidity of this situation prevents us from being more specific.”

Wycoff didn’t respond when asked for an approximate number.

State Rep. Mike Connolly gives a television interview Feb. 16 at the East Cambridge Registry of Deeds Building. (Photo: Mike Connolly via social media)

State Rep. Mike Connolly has been calling publicly for a 24-hour shelter for the past two weeks. He wants state government “to stop kicking unhoused families out into the cold on weekdays,” he said. “It’s inhumane, it’s cruel and it serves no point.”

In other communities, officials and residents are complaining about the presence of unhoused migrants, “but here in Cambridge, we are begging Secretary Galvin to stop standing in the way of allowing us to better serve this vulnerable population,” Connolly said on social media, referring to Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin, whose office has authority over the registry building.

Noah Bombard, a spokesperson for the state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, which runs the overflow migrant shelters, didn’t respond to questions about why the state had not increased hours at the shelter.

Warnick, the Cambridge spokesperson, said that besides the city offering libraries to migrant families as a resource, “the Haitian Services Coordinator at the Multi-Service Center and the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee  are working with families to provide immigration support, and the Community Learning Center and Community Engagement Teams are connecting with and serving as primary contacts for families. “