Walking Streets, Emergency Shelter for Homeless, and Additional Resources

Hospital beds lined up at a reserve field hospital set up in Yale’s Lanman Center (Photo credit: Dan Renzetti)

Hi all, 

As Cambridge absorbs the news of our first death of a resident from COVID-19, we should all remember to take time to deal with our feelings of fear, uncertainty and concern. One of the more poignant photos for me as we continue to struggle with a coherent response to the Covid19 public health emergency is from my graduate school alma mater – Yale. Like Tufts, and Harvard, MIT and other institutions of higher learning, Yale has stepped up to provide concrete help during this national emergency. The above photo is of a gym I occasionally used during my grad school years – now set up as a field hospital – ready to accept patients if needed. The photo struck me as a sign of how times are definitely NOT normal, that we can all contribute, come together, and that this is a time for responding as a nation, and world.

Similarly here in Cambridge a recreation facility, the War Memorial, is being prepped to serve as a homeless shelter. With the world being turned upside down every week, this proposal has taken some neighbors by surprise. The Council will vote on this policy order (link below) tonight. I am fully supportive since our shelters are full and crowded. The War Memorial will allow us to serve a vulnerable population with enough space for public health safety. I also believe that we should have communicated the plan to the neighborhood before activities started – while I understand we are in unprecedented times and the situation is moving at warp speed, we need to be better about transparent and timely communication.

The news continues to be worrisome and hopeful. I am holding onto the hope even as I monitor the situation, locally and nationally and internationally. The hopeful news is that the measures taken to limit exposure – encouraging physical distancing, limiting interactions with people, and educating people about the need to be vigilant – have had impact. Spain is starting to see a decline in new cases, some countries who have aggressively moved to test and provide full health care like Germany are experiencing fewer cases than others. I heard from two leading doctors in other states that although it will be worse before it gets better, that the steps taken seem to be allowing hospitals to avoid the worst case scenarios for which they have been preparing.

Is distancing necessary?

Many may still be struggling to answer the question- even now the deaths are far fewer than the flu, never mind gun deaths, car accidents, and other tragedies. I have responded to inquiries with the following:

The flu is dangerous and has killed more people so far, so why the extreme measures? The answer is that epidemiologists who study this type of disease have estimated that if we do nothing, the deaths from Covid19 would be much greater than from the flu.

However, honestly, we don’t know for sure as of now. Why do we think it may be more dangerous? The contagion rate appears to be greater, more people require hospitalization and the mortality rate might be 10 times as high (1% versus 0.1%) Even if it was as contagious as the flu, that would mean 10 times as many deaths. Seems like it is worth trying to limit. And, if the contagion rate is higher – most studies are showing it is double, then the number of deaths would be that much higher. The most important question is that IF it is true that about 4 times as many people with Covid19 require hospitalization compared to the flu, our health care system could be overwhelmed if the rate of infection is not slowed down. The most challenging aspect of this situation is that IF we manage to keep hospitalizations and deaths below projections, it will be used by some to suggest we overreacted and it was a hoax – instead of being seen as a victory for public health planning and foresight.

Along with some hopeful signs that we will get through this current phase, I have no doubt it is a public health emergency. I fully support the actions taken to date by the city and our state. I encourage everyone to follow the advice of our expert epidemiologists.

Hoping you and we all stay healthy, safe and sane,


Council Agenda Overview

Here are the orders I am sponsoring or co-sponsoring:

Order #2: That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation on streets in each neighborhood that could be closed to all non-essential traffic for the duration of the Health Emergency and report back to the council as soon as possible.  
Order #3: That the City Manager is requested to work with DCR to explore closing Memorial Drive for the duration of the Stay at Home order to give people in Cambridge a safe space to exercise and be outside without violating social distancing practices. 

  • I am very excited to be introducing these orders this evening. As of this morning, the council has received 115 emails in favor, with only 3 against. It is important to recognize that orders #2 and #3 seek to balance the need for people to get outside with the need for people to stay safe and have space.  Memorial Drive doesn’t get so crowded during an average Sunday even in summer that people cannot be distant from each other. The vision is to have mini-Mem Drive type closures throughout the city precisely to ensure that the parks are not overly crowded. With playgrounds and even Mount Auburn Cemetery shut down, it is essential for people to have places to run around, walk and be outside safely. At the moment, Fresh Pond, the walkway along the Charles, and the Minuteman bike path are all extremely crowded. These orders are an attempt to address that. 

Order #4: That the City Manager explore short-term solutions to expand essential Internet access to Cambridge residents who lack it during the pandemic until such time that a municipal broadband network can be implemented. 

  • Before this pandemic began, I was pushing for the City manager to move forward on municipal broadband, as I believe it is a necessary piece of infrastructure for any thriving and equitable city, as Cambridge strives to be. It has become an even more pressing issue, as working from home and remote learning are next to impossible without a strong connection. 

Here are other items of note on tonight’s agenda: 

City Manager’s Agenda Item #1: $52,890.00 from Free Cash for the support of the continued operation of the Y2Y Youth Shelter for the next few weeks.

  • I am very happy the city has identified funds to support the Y2Y shelter in Harvard Square – a shelter set up exclusively for homeless youth.  Y2Y was established several years ago by two CRLS alums who were Harvard students. In true Cambridge spirit, they identified a need and worked hard to address it. As both a Cambridge resident and Harvard alum, I encouraged our community to support Y2Y and I will be voting yes on this appropriation.    

City Manager’s Agenda Item #4: Utilizing the War Memorial Recreation Center and Field House on Cambridge Street for an emergency shelter for the homeless due to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.

Order #1: That the City Manager be and is hereby requested to work with the Cambridge Housing Authority and other appropriate personnel to enforce compliance with this order in publicly owned housing, publicly subsidized housing, and federally assisted housing.   

We have open space all across our beautiful city! Check out this guide and discover a park you have never been to before. 

Updates and Resources

Latest City Developments:

  • The Cambridge Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit has compiled a valuable resource guide and suggested safety plans for residents that may be isolated with an abusive partner or household member, be in fear and/or unable to access critical services for safety and support.

  • The City announced on Friday a number of measures to suspend fees and interest for a number of municipal bills to help mitigate financial strain on residents at this time.

  • The City’s temporary construction moratorium remains in effect while the City Solicitor and Commissioner of Public Health review the Governor’s position.

  • As of 1:30 PM on March 28, The Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund balance was $2,188,633.

  • Street cleaning is scheduled to start MAY 1, not the usual April 1 (this week). And parking permits will not expire tomorrow, March 31.  All permits will be valid until further notice.  

Local Business:

  • The Community Development Department announced that applications were available for small businesses seeking relief from losses due to the outbreak. Any applicant that meets the eligibility requirements can apply to receive a grant up to $6,000 per brick and mortar business. More information, including eligibility guidelines, can be found here

  • In the meantime, support local business by getting take out! See which ones are open here

Food assistance:

  • The city and Food for Free have set up the Cambridge Community Food Line (617-349-9155), a food item delivery service for Cambridge residents who are at high risk of food insecurity. This is an amazing resource – please share with anyone in need! Details here.

Child care:

  • Emergency child care centers are available for workers on the front lines of this outbreak. Currently there are 400 programs that can serve 8,000 children in Massachusetts, including two locations in Cambridge which can be found here.


  • It is vital that residents over the page of 60, especially those with underlying health conditions, practice thorough personal hygiene and safe social distancing. Here is a list of resources the city has compiled, but please reach out to me directly if you cannot find something you need on this list. 

From Cambridge Public Health: Guidance for Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Please give/volunteer if you are able:

A call for goods: 
Many families in our city are in need of goods. The top three things being requested are diapers, toilet paper, and market basket gift cards. If you decide on diapers, size 5 or 6 would be great.  Email mscarlett@cambridgema.gov to coordinate a contactless “porch pick-up.” 

City of Cambridge establishes Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund for COVID-19Please give if you are able!

Cambridge Bike Safety cyclists are excited to offer seniors and other vulnerable residents in Cambridge and Somerville help picking up local store orders by bike from businesses that support “curbside pick-up” and “contactless” ordering. If you would like to JOIN OUR NETWORK OF CYCLISTS volunteering to do pickups and deliveries, sign up here.

Red Cross – there is currently a severe blood shortage around the country. Eligible and healthy blood donors are urged to give. Sign up here!

Scroll to Top