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Albany St. homeless shelter pushes to stay

By Chris Schechter

The future of the shelter for the homeless at 240 Albany St., which sits on land owned by MIT, has become uncertain after MIT's announcement in June that the shelter's site is nothing more than temporary.

Although MIT has no plans to build on the land, the Institute wants to keep the status quo of letting the shelter use the land rent free, but granting no long-term arrangement. The Institute holds this attitude despite a resolution passed by the Cambridge City Council asking MIT to grant the shelter the land.

The shelter, a part of the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol Rehabilitation (CASPAR), has leased the land rent-free since it settled on the Albany St. site 11 years ago.

Last June, however, CASPAR officials raised the question of a long-term lease which would enable them to install permanent facilities. Up until now the shelter, which consists of a trailer, has been able to accommodate up to 55 homeless people in its limited space.

Although MIT, CASPAR and the city have met on numerous occasions, negotiations are currently at a standstill. "We've been very cooperative for a very long time," said Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the president for government and community relations.

Suduiko felt that MIT "stepped forward as a responsible neighbor" 11 years ago when the shelter was in need of a temporary location. Now, according to Suduiko, "it is the problem of the whole community, not just MIT."

Many students on campus, however, feel differently. According to Christopher S. Stipp G, co-coordinator of the MIT Homelessness Initiative, more than 500 people, including faculty and staff, signed a petition in favor of the shelter in less than three days.

The petition was part of a local initiative to inform the campus of the situation. "Once aware of the problem, a large fraction of the students will want to do something," Stipp said. "MIT as an educational institution should address major social problems."

Only shelter of its

kind in Cambridge

The Albany St. shelter is the only one of its kind in Cambridge. "They have no where to go -- we are their only option," said Margaret McAllister, case manager at the shelter. The shelter is ideally located in a non-residential neighborhood, McAllister added.

It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provides mostly emergency care for alcoholics and drug users from the cities of Cambridge and Somerville. "Our mission is first to keep people alive," McAllister said.

In addition, the shelter caters to the basic needs such as food, clothing and hygiene. The homeless can also take advantage of the counseling services the shelter offers and the strong ties it has with various detoxification centers.

The shelter, which receives support from the federal government, is staffed by a few professional counselors, but mostly by volunteers.