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RUNNING A SHELTER, BUT VYING FOR PERMANENT HOUSING 

“We’re very under-stocked with housing opportunities. Since we had 52 people in the shelter, getting housing for only 12 of them means that there were a lot left out. So we’re in desperate need of additional housing.”


Cambridge Unhoused is a series of articles, columns, explainers, and informational graphics by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism documenting homelessness funding and services in Massachusetts with particular attention paid to Cambridge. Since the topic is complex and ever-changing, we are publishing multiple short focused pieces that highlight specific issues or stakeholders but that also connect with other coverage for this project. Media produced for the Cambridge Unhoused series is distributed through the MassWire news service of BINJ and can be found together at binjonline.org.


Founded by a group of homeless individuals in Cambridge in 1989, the mission of Solutions at Work “is to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness by providing individuals and families with resources and opportunities to strengthen their self-confidence, achieve self-sufficiency, and participate in helping others.”

Among other charges, the nonprofit manages the Green Street Shelter, which serves up to 70 unhoused women and men around the clock, and also provides food and clothing to the local vulnerable population.

We spoke with Alice Kidder, the Solutions at Work board president, in the initial research for our Cambridge Unhoused series this fall. Her insights helped inform our coverage so far, including an explainer on Housing First initiatives, and her comments below speak further to the particular challenges faced by Cambridge when it comes to building new homes.

We asked Kidder, a retired economics professor, about how she got into this work and what she believes is needed to get people the permanent shelter they need.

On getting into this work in the first place … 

I started out working with a group called Interfaith Action, I think in the ’80s, trying to provide homeless services through a collaboration of different faith communities. And I became the treasurer of the organization for a while. Then it disbanded and we had been working with three nonprofits, one of which was Solutions at Work. And when Interfaith Action disbanded, we who were volunteering with them selected one of the three organizations to continue to work with, and I chose Solutions at Work. For a while I was treasurer, and then I became president, and I also assumed [the top administrative role] because we didn’t have enough money to hire an executive director. I volunteered to become a co-director and my other co-director is Paris Swindle—he’s been very instrumental in getting us connected with funding sources to help us provide services to the homeless community.

How Solutions at Work operates … 

We’re not a government agency. We, we’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but [the Cambridge Continuum of Care, a regional planning body that coordinates housing and related funding for homeless families and individuals] has members of the nonprofits in Cambridge that help with homelessness issues that they bring into their circle. It’s kind of an unstructured relationship. They asked me to serve on their charter review committee and … they provide funding opportunities and we apply.

We also have a grant from the City of Cambridge to provide mental health services to residents in the Green Street Shelter and others if the number wanting services is too low. So we’re beginning to implement that and there will be a case manager associated with that [program].

Image via Solutions at Work

On the increased stress they are facing … 

I feel we’re very under-stocked with housing opportunities. Since we had 52 people in the shelter, getting housing for only 12 of them means that there were a lot left out. So we’re in desperate need of additional housing. 

I’m working with the landowner at the moment to see whether she would lease a corner lot next to the Green Street Shelter. She owns it and there’s a dilapidated warehouse on it. We’d like to pull down the warehouse and get state and federal and private money to build a transitional housing building that would house maybe 45 single-room occupancy situations. I have an architect who volunteered to sketch out an idea of what might be there.

We’re kind of in the middle of things, trying to get things started. I hope we get support. We were working quite well with [Cambridge city councilors] Quinton Zondervan and Marc McGovern, they’re heroes of homelessness. [Ed. note: Zondervan has since left the council.]

On the challenge of building new housing … 

There are very few places in Cambridge [to put new affordable housing], and the dollar value of those places is very high and it makes a drag on getting publicly owned or publicly-leased housing. But we have this one opportunity that we’re working on—we haven’t got the agreements yet from the owner, so it’s still a question mark.

On the Housing First model, which puts causes as well as symptoms of homelessness aside to address the towering problem of people not having a safe place to live … 

The Housing first model has been successful in a number of places and I think it’s a good approach, a good model, and we just need the housing stock to make it work.

On potential help coming from the state … 

There is a thing in the legislature now to get an affordable housing bill passed. It would be lovely if they put in money for affordable housing for homeless people. We are promoting that idea. … It’s a bond bill, a bill to finance construction of affordable housing. And we need something specifically geared toward the homeless population. I hope the bond bill includes money for affordable housing, for transition housing, and permanent housing. I think [there were] 86 individuals that were completely unhoused [in Cambridge] on the street last November … We definitely need to take care of them.

Since our interview with Kidder, in October the Healey-Driscoll administration introduced the Affordable Homes Act, the “largest housing investment of its kind in Massachusetts” and a “$4 billion plan to jumpstart the production of homes and make housing more affordable across Massachusetts,” “designed to meet the moment and meaningfully impact the supply of housing in the state.”

Among other spending authorizations, the package proposes:

  • $200M for the Housing Innovations Fund to support innovative and alternative forms of rental housing for people experiencing homelessness, housing for seniors and veterans, and transitional units for persons recovering from substance abuse.
  • $190M for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition to help households avoid eviction and possibly homelessness.
  • $110M for Homeless Individual Shelters, which will preserve over 2,600 shelter beds for individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • $8.9M for Sponsor-Based Permanent Supportive Housing to help reduce chronic homelessness.
  • 750 new rental vouchers through the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), including project-based vouchers which are instrumental to the development of affordable housing.

As lawmakers and advocates from Cambridge and elsewhere push the governor’s ambitious plan, we look forward to following up with Kidder and other local stakeholders in the new year to see how efforts to build more permanent housing could be impacted by its passage.


This article is syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. If you want to see more reporting like this, make a contribution at givetobinj.org

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