While cities and towns across Massachusetts put out plans for how they will help people experiencing homelessness, Mayor McCarthy and the City of Waltham have been silent. When we asked them last week and again this week to put out a plan, what did we hear? "A plan is in process" and "plans are in process." This is not an adequate response. We need a plan now to help one of the most vulnerable populations in Waltham to ensure their safety and the safety of our entire city.
As further unveiled in this article in The Patch, Waltham is utterly unprepared. Not only does a lack of a plan put people at risk if they're experiencing homelessness, but it puts all of us at risk, regardless of our housing situation.
In addition, the local shelters have been making people leave at 7:45 AM and not allowing them back in until 4 PM. As a result, people without homes are walking around Waltham with no place to go, since businesses and most public institutions, such as the library, are not open for them to take shelter from the weather or simply pass the time. And, what if someone does test positive?
There's no plan.
Even institutions which explicitly aim to serve this community, such as the Community Day Center and soup kitchen, cannot allow people inside. This means that people experiencing homelessness are on the streets, going in and out of stores to stay warm and dry, and sometimes riding public transportation all day because they have no other place to go.
Not only does this go against the stay-at-home advisory, but it also increases the odds of these individuals contracting and spreading novel coronavirus. In addition, due to the cramped spaces of the shelters, if one person in this community is infected, the virus will most likely spread to many others. It is for these reasons that we have three requests for the city. They are:
Allow people sleeping in the shelters to stay inside all day.
Develop a protocol, plan, and space for when unhoused people start getting sick: in terms of quarantine, testing, isolation, and treatment in facilities with adequate resources for sanitation and hygiene.
Create an emergency 24-hour shelter space for people who normally sleep outside.