MIT, city discuss homeless shelter
By Karen Kaplan
Members of the MIT Homelessness Initiative met with President Charles M. Vest April 10 to discuss the dilemma of the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholism Rehabilitation (CASPAR) shelter.
The Homelessness Initiative presented Vest with a list of ways the Institute could deal with the CASPAR shelter, which currently sits on MIT-owned land. The shelter has occupied the land essentially rent-free since 1978, but would need a long-term lease in order to build the permanent structure its organizers desire.
Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the president for government and community relations, and Sara F. Eusden, assistant for government and community relations, were also present at the meeting.
The group also gave Vest a petition signed by 1352 members of the MIT community urging the Institute to donate the land at 240 Albany St., the present site of the shelter, to CASPAR as well as "a significant donation" to contribute to the building of a permanent shelter.
In addition, the group sponsored a letter-writing campaign, which produced roughly 200 letters that were sent to Vest and 200 to Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman, according to Corinna E. Lathan G a member of the initiative.
City manager asked
to report on CASPAR
The Cambridge City Council asked City Manager Robert Healy to present a report on the CASPAR shelter at the city council meeting last night. However, according to Eusden, the schedule did not include a discussion of CASPAR.
Eusden said that she and Suduiko had arranged to meet with Healy last Thursday to discuss cooperative efforts between Cambridge and MIT to deal with the CASPAR shelter. However, the meeting was cancelled because Healy fell ill. Eusden hopes to meet with him within the next two weeks.
Currently, the CASPAR shelter is located on MIT property at Albany Street. As the largest homeless shelter in Cambridge, it is open 24 hours a day all year and serves hundreds of guests each month.
In 1978, it appeared that CASPAR would be able to lease space for a permanent shelter at the corner of Main and Windsor Streets, but MIT purchased the property before the lease was signed. MIT then allowed CASPAR to move temporarily to its present site.
Student members of the Homelessness Initiative are hopeful that a resolution will be found soon for the CASPAR shelter. "We feel that we're on the brink of some sort of resolution to this problem," Lathan said.
Wayne W. Wu '91, another member of the Initiative, agreed with Lathan. "We think this is a situation where everyone can benefit. It's really a win-win situation," Wu said.
In fact, the MIT administration is eager to contribute to a solution for CASPAR. "When a solution is crafted for the CASPAR shelter, MIT stands ready to be involved in its implementation," Vest said.
Immerman said, "In the final analysis, something will get worked out because we've spent so much time on it." He added, "I've got my fingers crossed. All of us need to be working to solve this problem."
Immerman suggested that the major stumbling block right now is that MIT is being asked to bear the full responsibility for finding a permanent site for the shelter.
"We have been at the table, we're not going any place, we aren't going to ask CASPAR to move," Immerman said. "But we would like others to bear what we think is a substantial responsibility for what is a municipal responsibility."
Vest echoed Immerman's sentiment. "This matter is a shared issue and its solution should be one that is contributed to by all members of the community including the city, CASPAR, MIT and other entities," he said.
Grant for CASPAR
building has expired
In 1987, the CASPAR shelter received a $2.5 million state grant from the Department of Human Services to establish a permanent shelter for the homeless and to deal with the problem of alcoholism.
However, MIT decided not to offer CASPAR a long-term, 40-year lease for Albany Street site, which was necessary for the shelter to use the grant money to establish a permanent building.
At the end of fiscal year 1990, the grant expired. A task force representing Cambridge, MIT and CASPAR was consequently formed to try to resolve the CASPAR issue. Right now, the shelter is composed of two trailers.
Although MIT does not have any definite plans for using the current CASPAR site, both Vest and Immerman said that the Institute will be using that land in the foreseeable future to develop more student housing.
"The Institute does have plans to build student housing on the Albany Street parcel in the future, but at this time, there is no urgency to use the site," Vest said.
"There are a number of variables that factor into the planning process for the land, such as the availability of resources, and the city's still incomplete rezoning initiative for that area," Vest noted.
Homelessness Initiative members pointed to the grant as an example of the support in the community for the CASPAR shelter. "This proves that people can get the funds if they have the land," Lathan said.
The initiative has unsuccessfully solicited funding for the shelter from MIT, suggesting that the Institute could be "pro-active" by starting a multi-service center for housing and homelessness with funding from outside sources, not from tuition income.
However, Immerman questioned the appropriateness of using MIT funds to support CASPAR. "It's really questionable whether or not research grants and donors give us money to essentially support an alcohol shelter," Immerman said.
"At the very base of it, other than the notion that we think this is important, there's a real question that the kind of resources that one would associate with a CASPAR program are legal expenditures for MIT," he continued.
Immerman said he empathizes with Cambridge's position as "a city with unlimited wants and needs in the face of limited resources." He suggested that in order to generate more revenue for the city without raising taxes, Cambridge must expand its tax base. This can be achieved by allowing development projects such as the ones MIT has been involved in, he said.
However, such projects also create new problems, such as traffic, pollution and congestion. "Development is counter to what neighborhoods want, but they provide the city with revenue," Immerman said.
Houselessness as the
root of homelessness
"The root of homelessness is really just houselessness," Lathan said. She believes that the real problem is the lack of housing in Cambridge.
To this end, Vest cited several instances where MIT provided housing in Cambridge, including "700 units of elderly housing, and in conjunction with the Cambridge Corporation, created 700 units of low-income housing."
Eusden also noted that MIT will ultimately build 400 units of housing in conjunction with the University Park project, 142 of which have been built and occupied. Currently, 150 of these units are designated as low- and moderate-income housing units.
Vest said, "MIT has developed more housing than any other university in the country."
MIT as a "good neighbor"
Homeless Initiative member Sasi K. Digavalli G pointed to a 1990 agreement between Yale University and New Haven, CT, as an example of how MIT could strive to be a "good neighbor" in Cambridge.
The agreement, signed by the Yale president and the New Haven mayor, states, "Yale firmly believes that it has the responsibility for being a good citizen of New Haven."
Digavalli believes that such a good faith measure would improve the relationship between MIT and Cambridge.
Vest said, "MIT has always been very supportive of the Cambridge community. [MIT] has provided a payment in lieu of taxes every year to the city since 1928.
"In addition, MIT has been involved in many major community initiatives over the years," Vest said, noting the development of Technology Square, University Park and the establishment of Cambridge's the first satellite health care center.