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As Cambridge Emergency Shelter Struggles to Meet Needs, Chelsea Nonprofit Provides Resources to Families

Cambridge City Hall is located at 795 Massachusetts Ave. La Colaborativa, an immigrant social service organization in Chelsea, opened a walk-in day services center on Tuesday for families staying in the state-run emergency homeless shelter in Cambridge.
Cambridge City Hall is located at 795 Massachusetts Ave. La Colaborativa, an immigrant social service organization in Chelsea, opened a walk-in day services center on Tuesday for families staying in the state-run emergency homeless shelter in Cambridge. By Julian J. Giordano
By Laurel M. Shugart, Crimson Staff Writer

La Colaborativa, an immigrant social service organization in Chelsea, opened a walk-in day services center on Tuesday for families staying in the state-run emergency homeless shelter in Cambridge, which has struggled to transition its residents into permanent housing.

The shelter, which opened in December, was originally intended to temporarily host families who qualify for the state’s Emergency Assistance program. However, many residents have stayed for months, putting pressure on the state and city to keep the shelter open during daytime hours.

Currently, the shelter operates from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m., making it the only temporary emergency family shelter in Massachusetts not to be open 24/7. When 9 a.m. rolls around each day, the shelter’s residents are left — often in the bitter cold — to find shelter, food, and resources on their own.

“As we’re facing an unprecedented state of emergency, it’s critical that all residents have access to safe, dignified shelter, especially over the frigid winter months,” Gladys Vega, the CEO of La Colaborativa, said in a Feb. 16 press release.

The day service center, located in La Colaborativa’s headquarters in Chelsea, operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. La Colaborativa plans to arrange transportation between the overflow shelter and its site, which can accomodate up to 200 individuals during the day.

The center will provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks in addition to hygiene items, infant supplies, clothing, and other basic household necessities.

Additionally, on-site case managers will work with families at the service center to provide assistance with housing program applications, immigration support, and obtaining work authorization.

The city — which has asked state officials to open the shelter 24/7 — has also worked to provide daytime resources to the shelter’s residents, connecting them to services at libraries and other community centers, city spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick wrote in an email.

Cambridge Public Schools have been routinely enrolling children staying in the shelter since January and created a new school bus stop to transport children from the shelter to their schools.

In order to make the overflow site livable for families, the Healey administration allocated $175,000 in renovations to the site prior to the shelter’s opening, updating fire safety equipment and plumbing.

The state also provided funding to the nonprofit United Way of Massachusetts Bay to establish the Safety Net Shelter Grant program, which provided the funding for La Colaborativa’s day shelter.

“Recognizing the countless lives at risk, we’re grateful to collaborate with the United Way and Healey-Driscoll Administration to deploy our unique, trauma-informed model of providing a culturally familiar, welcoming day center with comprehensive housing, economic, and wraparound services, which are vital to the wellbeing of homeless families,” Vega said.

—Staff writer Laurel M. Shugart can be reached at laurel.shugart@thecrimson.com. Follow them on X @laurelmshugart or on Threads @laurel.shugart.

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