The Cambridge City Council discussed non-police emergency response procedures and passed a policy order that aims to improve Central Square’s quality of life at a Monday evening meeting.
City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 and Liz Speakman, interim director of Cambridge’s Community Safety Department, provided updates on the progress of funding the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team and allowing the organization to respond to certain 911 calls.
HEART is a public safety alternative that currently operates independently of the city. Discussions of integrating HEART and organizations like it into Cambridge’s policing strategy have been underway since June 2020, and the Council passed a policy order in March 2023 calling on Huang to fund HEART. Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan pressed Speakman on when a contract might finally be drawn up.
Speakman responded that the CSD will begin funding HEART when the organization provides a proposal for how they might be funded, and said that she has not yet received such a proposal.
HEART did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speakman also noted that the CSD’s current goal is to have non-police responders operating by March and that until then, responders will be “out in the community doing outreach activities, building trusting relationships and credibility before launching the 911 response.”
During the meeting, the Council also passed a policy order via voice vote that requests the City Manager to collaborate with relevant departments to review reports concerning Central Square in order to improve the quality of life in and around the square.
Councilor Marc C. McGovern had exercised his charter right — a councilor’s option to delay the discussion of a policy to a later meeting — on the policy order at the last City Council meeting on Sept. 11.
The policy order, sponsored by Councilors Paul F. Toner and E. Denise Simmons, called for the creation of a task force to address quality-of-life issues in Central Square, citing “homelessness, drug use, public intoxication, violence, and aggressive panhandling since the onset of the Covid pandemic.”
Additional tasks for the city manager is to prioritize actionable, “low-hanging fruit” recommendations while creating a holistic, long-term plan.
At this meeting, McGovern proposed a substitute policy order that was eventually passed in place of the original. The new policy order removes any references to unhoused people and requests the city manager work with city departments on the issues in Central Square, rather than creating a new task force.
Councilor Dennis J. Carlone said he supported the policy order, citing the need for expansive solutions.
“I think that’s the spirit of this policy order that they recognize it’s not a one-off solution,” Carlone said. “Zoning won’t solve it, particular overview won’t solve it, open space — it’s a combination of all those issues.”
“Just as long as it’s taken for Central Square to change, it will take almost as long to bring it back to what people deserve,” he added.
The Council will reconvene on Oct. 2 for their next regular meeting.
—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at email@example.com.