Council meeting updates and responses to COVID-19

Hi all,

I hope everyone is staying healthy (and safe from these gale force winds). This week’s email will be short – some updates from the city, the agenda for tonight’s meeting with how I plan to vote, and general resources for people to utilize during this crisis.

While we are isolated from each other physically, it is important to stay engaged and informed to the extent that you are able. During a virtual town hall with Rep. Katherine Clark on Thursday, I was reminded once again of how we in her district – as with Cambridge’s other fantastic Rep. Ayanna Pressley- are fortunate to have powerful, insightful and courageous leaders. My question was on how small businesses who are suffering can be assured that the bills passed for relief will help small businesses. The response was good news – Rep. Clark indicated that the Congress is aware of the concerns and are working to address it. In the meantime, the council is working hard to help local businesses as best we can – there is a late order on tonight’s agenda for small business, which I will support wholeheartedly. Whether it’s ordering a book or ordering take out, do your best to buy local (this is true always, but now more than ever) and tip as well as you can.

Update on the effort to Feed our Frontline!

Thank you so the 100+ people who have donated so far, helping us to raise our goal and provide more meals from local businesses to Cambridge hospital workers. Read more and donate below!

Council Agenda Overview

Link to full City Council Meeting Agenda
(Information on public comment below)

Agenda items of interest:

PO #2 – Convene an Advisory Committee to review the impact on local communities of color

We have already begun to see the outsized impact that COVID-19 is having on people of color (and more specifically African-Americans) around the country. This order calls for the City Manager to convene an advisory committee so we can better understand this disparity on a local level, with the goal of reducing infection rates and improving recovery rate as quickly as possible. This is a systemic issue of inequality that we are watching unfold in warp speed and we must do everything we can to mitigate its effects. I am glad that Councilor Simmons introduced this order and I will be voting yes. 

PO #4 – Develop and implement stricter public health regulations to protect our grocery store workers

The grocery store workers are on the frontlines of this crisis and must be protected. This order calls for stricter guidelines, including (but not limited to) a requirement that stores provide masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to employees for every shift worked. I am grateful to community members  who first worked on alerting all of us to this important issue, and to my colleagues for continuing to push for safe practices.  I will be voting yes. 

PO #7 – Expanding the City’s jobs programs for those unemployed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

This order calls for the City Manager to work with the Department of Human Services to examine the possibility of expanding the City’s jobs programs, with the understanding that many of the people laid off as a result of this crisis will be left out from the federal stimulus package. We should take action on the local level and this order is a good start. I will be voting yes. 

PO #8 – Changing the War Memorial shelter site

This order requests that the City Manager repurpose the War Memorial facility into only a COVID-19 testing and temporary quarantine site for unhoused individuals awaiting their test results. This order has many excellent points, especially in light of the testing in various facilities and homeless shelters including San Francisco and Boston where larger percentages of clients have tested positive for Covid19.  And a very recent pilot study (this past weekend) of nursing homes in Cambridge found an extremely high number of positive test results among residents and staff – confirming that the virus is more widespread than the number of cases to date show. I will be asking for more clarity on how we are providing testing for homeless residents to be sheltered there. I was also glad to hear that the city is working with the state to include the Freepoint Hotel in the Alewife area to house homeless residents with Covid19. 

The order also asks for additional support from Harvard, MIT and the hotel industry.  I am grateful for the way all those institutions, especially Havard and MIT have stepped up and provided the city and the community with a lot of help and resources during this time. I also have heard from people in those communities that simply opening up dorms to homeless residents is a complex matter.  Many dorms are housing students who could not safely return home, and staff who live there. And if services cannot be provided to vulnerable populations in need of substance abuse help or mental health services or other services, I am not convinced that university dorms are the place to turn. I will be listening closely, asking questions, and determining how best to engage the institutions in further help during this emergency.

How to watch the meeting or sign up for public comment:
Members of the public can watch the meeting on City’s Cable channel 22-CityView or online via the City of Cambridge Open Meeting Portal at www.cambridgema.gov

All public comment will be conducted through ZOOM virtual meetings. Sign up for public comment at https://www.cambridgema.gov/publiccomment.

You will receive instructions about how to use ZOOM after you have signed up.

If you do not have access to the internet, please contact the City Council Office at 617-349-4280 to have your name added to the list and instructions on how to join ZOOM via telephone.

Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund

Application is now open!

In response to COVID-19, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale activated the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund on March 19, 2020 to provide emergency assistance to individuals and families in Cambridge who are experiencing financial hardship due to the virus outbreak. Thanks to the generosity of the Cambridge community, more than $3.3 million has been raised and the Fund continues to accept donations.