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Shelter Proposal Awaits Final Vote

By Charu Chaudhry
Staff Reporter

Three months after MIT announced a proposal to move the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol Rehabilitation shelter off MIT land to a permanent site in Central Square, negotiators await a final vote on the proposal, which is expected later this month.

The CASPAR shelter, which at present is little more than a trailer, moved to its present location at 240 Albany St. in 1979 and has occupied the property rent-free since then. However, CASPAR is anxious to move to another, permanent site, officials say.

Under the current proposal, supported by MIT, CASPAR, and Cambridge officials, MIT would purchase and renovate the property at 380 Green St. in Central Square at an expected cost of $2 million. MIT would then deed the land and building to Cambridge, and the city would enter into a long-term lease with CASPAR.

In exchange for the property, Cambridge would transfer ownership of three sidewalks on the MIT campus to the Institute, along with a portion of the sidewalks on a fourth street. These sidewalks include Carleton and Hayward Streets, Amherst Street west of Massachusetts Avenue, and Vassar Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Audrey Street. MIT has relinquished all development rights to this land.

Residents of Green Street and the surrounding area object to the proposal, saying that moving the shelter would bring a dangerous, undesirable set of people to the area.

The CASPAR shelter is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides primarily emergency care for alcohol and drug abusers from Cambridge and Somerville. CASPAR provides basic services such as food, clothing, hygiene, and counseling services.

CASPAR staff and MIT officials agree that a permanent site for the shelter must be found soon.

"It is absolutely imperative that we get a permanent site and that we get it now, because there's a real possibility that we won't be funded and the community will not support us unless we have a permanent site," said Aaron Shepard, CASPAR's assistant director. "It's been a long process. We have been in a trailer for 13 years."

"The most important thing is that CASPAR get a permanent site. The best thing we can do is allow the deliberative process to continue," said Paul Parravano, an MIT community relations assistant.

The current proposal was first announced in August, and since then CASPAR and the city have held many public meetings to address the concerns of community groups. Municipal and state laws require an extensive review process before the Cambridge City Council can vote on the proposal. A vote is expected before Dec. 24. A progress report from the committee is expected on Dec. 10.

A special review committee, chaired by City Councilor Jonathan Myers, now meets weekly to examine all aspects of the Green Street proposal, the siting history, and possible alternative sites. These include the Danica Building on Sidney Street, a vacant lot on Hamilton Street, the Volve Building on Massachusetts Avenue, and other sites in Inman Square.

"The committee will continue to talk and come up with proposals until a consensus is reached. The most important thing is that whatever site is agreed to, it be a consensus site that the entire community and the committee can support," said Ronald P. Suduiko, special assistant to the president for government and community relations.

"We are hopeful that a permanent site will be found for CASPAR. We are very supportive of the CASPAR community, and we feel that it is important to focus on CASPAR as an organization that is striving to meet the community's needs," he added.