U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Summary from October 2023 Central Square Roundtable

A Central Square Roundtable was hosted last week in the Sullivan Chamber at Cambridge City Hall to update the City Council and interested members of the community on the City of Cambridge’s ongoing investments, commitments, and dedicated programming in the Central Square area. While there have been a number of challenges in Central Square, including quality of life concerns and ensuring adequate support for the unhoused community, complex and solutions-oriented work is being led by the City in conjunction with our many partners.

As part of the October 23rd roundtable, a joint presentation was hosted by the City Manager’s Office, Cambridge Police Department, Department of Human Services, Cambridge Public Health Department, Community Development Department, Central Square Business Improvement District, and other city departments and partners. The focus was centered on three key areas: public safety, social services, and public space activation.

Police Commissioner Elow highlighted how Cambridge Police officers are connecting with 50-100 unhoused individuals a week in Central Square. Their goal is to locate and help any unhoused residents who may be in need of services, distribute essential items whenever appropriate, and identify and mitigate any drug transactions, active substance use, trespassing or abandoned property. Through their partnerships with the District Attorney’s Office and a local judge, the CPD is strategically using the Cambridge Community Court as a tool for people who are resistant to services and involved in petty crime. This specialized court involves services providers at a time when defendants are meeting with prosecutors, and fast-tracking them to services rather than jail-time to ensure they receive the help they need instead of cycling in and out of the criminal justice system. 

Members of the Department of Human Services and Public Health, including Assistant to the City Manager Ellen Semonoff, reviewed the expansive level of services and resources the City has committed to supporting for the unhoused community, including stabilizing emergency shelter capacity, expanding permanent supportive housing, enhancing supportive services, reducing harm, and preventing overdoses. On a per capita basis, Cambridge provides more adult emergency shelter beds to individuals who are unhoused than any city or town across the state. In fact, Cambridge has nearly four times the number of beds per capita than the statewide average. Despite state funding ending and leases at risk of expiring, the City preserved nearly 100 emergency shelter beds in 2023.

Additional social services presentations reviewed the expansion of First Step’s mobile outreach services in Cambridge and Somerville. Through this enhanced outreach, medical teams are joining street outreach teams to provide further care, basic needs supplies, connections to shelters, and other valued resources. Naloxone and fentanyl test strip distribution events, increased accessibility to support, medication takeback events, awareness campaigns, and training sessions are all action steps proactively being taken to reduce overdoses and harm.

The presentations concluded with Community Development Department, the Central Square Business Improvement District, and Department of Public Works focusing on public space activation with three key areas: programming and events, operations and maintenance, and design improvements and expanded uses. Programming and event highlights included an overview of the citywide Dance Party that returned after a hiatus due to COVID-19, play streets, the Cambridge Arts River Festival, Cambridge Carnival, dance and music in the square, the fourth season of events in Starlight Square, farmers markets, artist residency, public art in Graffiti Alley, and much more. Through the partnership of the Department of Public Works and Central Square Business Improvement District (BID), maintenance is a prominent focal point, BID Ambassadors will have expanded hours of service, increased lighting has resulted in brightening Central Square, and vacant storefronts have been turned into vibrant spaces by implementing special treatments through the BID’s “In Central I Can” campaign. Finally, present and future physical design improvements and expanded uses were presented, including the River Street and Carl Barron Plaza redesign, a reconstruction project on Massachusetts Avenue between Bigelow Street to Sidney Street, and the reallocation of public space through outdoor dining spaces.

To download the presentation and data referenced during the roundtable, please see 


Page was posted on 11/1/2023 12:06 PM
Page was last modified on 11/1/2023 12:06 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