War Memorial Temporary Emergency Shelter

UPDATE: August 10, 2020 - City of Cambridge to Relocate Temporary Emergency Shelter at War Memorial Recreation Center to 1575 Cambridge Street


On April 1, the City Manager’s office announced that the City will open the War Memorial Recreation Center and Field House (War Memorial) at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) to shelter homeless neighbors during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The War Memorial is located at 1640 Cambridge Street, which is a part of the CRLS campus. The War Memorial is the only existing site that meets both the physical space and activation time requirements needed for the Temporary Emergency Shelter.

The War Memorial Recreation Center is already the City’s designated emergency shelter site and a certified shelter location. It has the physical infrastructure to suit public health needs, including a variety of separable spaces, and secure off street and underground drop off access. The War Memorial’s existing security design is easily augmentable utilizing a combination of private security for the interior and a dedicated team of Cambridge Police Officers to provide security for the surrounding community on a 24-hour basis. It is also close to the Cambridge Health Alliance.

During the week of April 13th, the War Memorial opened its two dedicated service areas (quarantine area and field house).

On Friday, May 29, the quarantine area was closed and the only remaining operational area is the field house. Residents that need to utilize an area to quarantine will be transported to a regional isolation center. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Who will use the War Memorial Temporary Emergency Shelter?

This temporary emergency location will be used primarily to assist individuals that lack stable or suitable housing. The War Memorial will serve members of our community who are experiencing homelessness and people who are precariously housed and/or unable to properly self-quarantine due to their living arrangements.

When will the shelter open?

The Quarantine area opened on Tuesday, April 14. The Field House (i.e. daytime services and overnight shelter for Cambridge residents experiencing homelessness who have tested negative for COVID-19) opened on Friday, April 17. The Field House shelter will open in stages due to the availability of testing kits. Initially, the Field House opened to residents staying at the Warming Center who tested negative for COVID-19. Additional testing took place for residents staying at the CASPAR Emergency Services Center on Albany Street. Individuals who tested negative will then have the option of staying at the Field House. 

What are the shelter's hours and how many people can it serve?

Once open, the Temporary Emergency Shelter will operate 24/7. The distinct service areas have the capacity to accommodate approximately 200 people in total. 

Why aren’t the City’s homeless shelters sufficient for this need?

COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease. The best strategy for slowing the spread of COVID-19 is for individuals to physically distance themselves from others not in their household. For people staying in homeless shelters, maintaining a 6 foot physical distance from other clients is nearly impossible because of the way the shelters are designed. As a result, many shelters are at or near full capacity.

The City is taking immediate action to protect people experiencing homelessness because many of these individuals are at high risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19. By not taking action, the City is putting the lives of both the people experiencing homelessness and those who serve them in jeopardy. The City believes that this temporary emergency shelter will help mitigate and slow the spread of COVID-19 among shelter clients, health care providers, first responders, and the broader community.

Additionally, shelter capacity at the remaining open shelters are implementing physical distancing measures which means fewer residents can stay in them. As a result of this shortage and the impending closure of the Warming Center on April 17, we predict an increased number of people in need of shelter services and support.

Why was the War Memorial site chosen?

The War Memorial is designated by the American Red Cross as an emergency shelter location and has been used effectively and safely as such. In addition, the  War Memorial is designated as the Emergency Dispensing Site for Public Health Preparedness, which means that a great deal of planning has taken place over the past decade relative to using this space for medical and/or shelter purposes.

The War Memorial location was chosen after careful consideration because it is the only site that meets the physical space and specification needs and allows for separate and distinct service areas: 

  • Ample quarantine space: Separate physical space will be made available for individuals that need to be quarantined while awaiting COVID-19 test results. Unique to this site is the ability to provide quarantine space without entering the building, since individuals will be housed in a temporary setting on the lower level. This will allow for easy and safe access to care and transport. 
  • Ample space for residents who are homeless and tested negative for COVID-19: Additionally, the War Memorial complex has ample physical space to accommodate residents who tested negative for COVID-19 and may not have access to daytime services or a place to sleep overnight and are seeking to reduce exposure. The facility is large enough to ensure physical distancing among all of the residents.


The War Memorial gymnasium, another dedicated area in the Temporary Emergency Shelter, was originally planned as exclusive space for residents who need to be isolated and receive treatment due to confirmed tests or symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Any COVID-19 positive cases at the
Temporary Emergency Shelter will now be transported to regional isolation centers administered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Commonwealth announced that it no longer plans to use the Freepoint Hotel at 220 Alewife Brook Parkway. The War Memorial gymnasium will remain reserved for additional capacity if the need arises; however, this space is not expected to be activated.

Where will those who test positive be isolated?

The War Memorial gymnasium, another dedicated area in the Temporary Emergency Shelter, was originally planned as exclusive space for residents who need to be isolated and receive treatment due to confirmed tests or symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Any COVID-19 positive cases at the Temporary Emergency Shelter will now be transported to regional isolation centers administered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Commonwealth announced this week that it no longer plans to use a hotel in Cambridge. The War Memorial gymnasium will remain reserved for additional capacity if the need arises; however, this space is not expected to be activated.

Through a contract with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel, and North Suffolk will provide the medical support and social services on-site at the regional isolation centers. MEMA will contract with security, cleaning services, and food service. The hotel site will be used for COVID-19 positive homeless individuals. Transportation will be arranged to and from the location. 

Additional questions related to this initiative should be directed to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

What was the process to select this location?

The City Manager created an Emergency Task Force (ETF) and asked members to identify a temporary location to shelter the City’s most vulnerable residents during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The ETF carefully considered and visited 17 locations across the City. The Cambridge Police Commissioner and Chief Public Health Officer recommended to the City Manager and Commissioner of Public Health that the War Memorial as the best location to house persons experiencing homelessness in a manner that slows the spread of COVID-19 among shelter clients, health care providers, first responders, and the broader Cambridge community.

With support from the City Council and Cambridge School Committee, the City Manager has implemented the ETF's recommendation by designating the War Memorial as a temporary emergency shelter.

 

How long is temporary?

Protocol for use of the War Memorial as a temporary emergency shelter will be the same as with our City, state and nation. All people who need to be in quarantine will remain as long as necessary while awaiting the results of their test (24-48 hours). If they test positive and are not in need of hospital-level medical support, they will be transported to regional hotel outside of Cambridge. If the test result is negative, they will be released to the general space where those without symptoms will temporarily reside.

 

How can we ensure that the neighborhood will be safe from the spread of COVID-19 by residents of the temporary emergency shelter?

The most important thing that we, as a community can do, to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to remain at home and go outside as little as possible. When going outside, people need to be sure that they physically distance themselves (by at least 6 feet) from others and that they remember to wash their hands (for 20 seconds) when returning home.

Regarding residents of the temporary shelter who were in contact with someone who tested positive—the War Memorial has sufficient space to mitigate the spread, including ample quarantine space and extensive space for residents who tested negative for COVID-19 and don't have symptoms.

Additionally, the ability to provide security for the facility and surrounding community was a top consideration for the ETF.  Security at the War Memorial will be provided by private security for the interior (for the day shelter and quarantine facilities) and a dedicated team of Cambridge Police Officers will provide security for the surrounding community on a 24-hour basis. The proposed configuration and security plan will minimize any potential impact or disruption to the immediate neighborhood.

Who will be working at the temporary shelter?

The Field House will be managed by Bay Cove/CASPAR staff, who will be tested.

 

Will residents be screened for COVID-19 before entering the shelter?

Yes. COVID-19 testing will take place for residents staying at local shelters. Those individuals who test negative will then have the option of staying at the Field House. While staying at the Field House, residents will have their temperatures checked and they will be screened for any possible symptoms.

 

Was the Cambridge Public School Department Administration consulted?

Yes, the City has been collaborating and consulting with the school administration, the Cambridge Public School Superintendent, and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School Principal on the logistical aspects of this initiative.

 

Will the temporary emergency shelter remain in effect if students go back to school?

The City has worked closely with the City’s Public Health team to ensure that we are making the most informed decisions possible to protect the health and welfare of the entire Cambridge community. As such, these considerations have been thoroughly discussed and vetted, and the City believes that hosting a temporary emergency shelter at the War Memorial will not pose a health risk to the reopening of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS). No activities associated with the temporary emergency shelter will take place in academic areas of CRLS buildings.

The Mayor and City Manager have also secured commitments from Harvard University and MIT to provide additional classrooms, if needed, for Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Will other outdoor spaces surrounding the War Memorial be safe to use?

All outdoor spaces (the tennis courts) will be cordoned off and used by Field House residents (those who have not tested positive nor have any symptoms for COVID-19). These spaces will not be accessible to the larger Cambridge community.

If there are further community questions or concerns regarding the Temporary Shelter, who can residents contact?

Residents can reach out via a 24-hour Phone Hotline at 617-349-9770 or by email at 311@cambridgema.gov

Additional Information

Contact Information

Residents can reach out via a 24-hour Phone Hotline at 617-349-9770 or by email at 311@cambridgema.gov

Page was posted on 4/2/2020 5:13 PM
Page was last modified on 8/10/2020 3:34 PM
Contact Us

How can we help?

Please provide as much detail below as possible so City staff can respond to your inquiry:

As a governmental entity, the Massachusetts Public Records Law applies to records made or received by the City. Any information received through use of this site is subject to the same provisions as information provided on paper.

Read our complete privacy statement


Service Requests

Enter a service request via Commonwealth Connect for things like missed trash pickups, potholes, etc., click here