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MIT should not sweep homeless shelter aside

At 240 Albany Street on MIT property stands a shelter for homeless people. It is part of the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholic Rehabilitation (CASPAR). The shelter provides emergency services, food, clothes and sleeping space for about 50-100 guests every day, said Win Poor, who runs the shelter.

He added that roughly half the guests are repeated visitors, while the rest are newcomers. He also said that some of the visitors are ex-MIT employees and some of his former guests now work for MIT.

Poor himself was an MIT employee, then became an alcoholic and homeless, took help from the shelter and rehabilitated himself. By running the shelter he now helps the currently less fortunate ones, and tries to "plant that seed of hope for a better future" in their minds.

The current conditions at the shelter are very depressing. The shelter is housed in three wooden trailers that are waiting to fall apart at any time. It has a small front office, where all the donated clothes are kept, and a small, heavily crowded kitchen. The guests sleep, eat and hang around during the day in the same place. At night stretchers for sleeping are placed without any space in between them in order to accommodate as many as possible.

Poor said that when winter arrives he has to do the painful job of rejecting many visitors due to the lack of space. Thus, the conditions of the shelter are worse than those in any prison, denigrating to human dignity, and should be considered inhuman in any developed country.

According to Cambridge Mayor Alice K. Wolf, in 1978 when CASPAR was trying to lease land for the shelter, MIT out-bid it and bought the land. Since 1979, due to heavy pressure from the city of Cambridge, the present site has been leased rent-free to CASPAR on a yearly basis. This lease was terminated a few months ago. CASPAR lost a $2.5 million state grant for constructing a permanent building because MIT would not consent to a permanent lease or to selling the land.

MIT should behave more responsibly and compassionately than it has been in this regard. Any other real estate developer (which MIT is, whether it develops dormitories, apartments, or the Simplex site) would not have been able to get away with doing what MIT has done to CASPAR.

I would say it is the responsibility of MIT or Harvard -- which have bought up so much of Cambridge, driving up real estate prices in the neighborhood. How can any non-profit organization stand the competition (in buying land) from the giants like MIT or Harvard? Where will the homeless -- some of whom might not have been homeless if it was not for the high real estate prices -- go?

When I went to visit the shelter, it reminded me of Atlantic City, where on the one hand are these luxurious casinos and on the other are people living in rundown houses whose higher floors have already collapsed and their broken windows are covered with plastic sheets; and of Bombay, where posh multi-story apartment complexes complete with parking lots adjoin streets on which people live under translucent plastic sheets erected as tents.

We at MIT with all this education should not allow such a disparity to develop in front of our own eyes. We will not be able to enjoy our cozy spring breaks if the homeless of the Boston area have to go without even a crowded shelter to hide from the coming winter.

Sasi K. Digavalli G->