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Public showers open in Cambridge to serve those who lack access

Nine public shower facilities opened in Harvard Square this week to serve the homeless community.

The City of Cambridge and First Church Shelter have partnered to open nine public shower facilities in Harvard Square to serve the homeless community. COURTESY OF JIM STEWART

Jim Stewart, the First Church Shelter director, said the project began because many homeless shelters reduced their capacity during the pandemic to keep residents safe. This, along with the closure of public places such as gyms and recreation centers, resulted in the loss of access to showers.

Stewart and First Church Shelter worked with the City of Cambridge to open the showers.  

“This is an example of how the private sector, or the nonprofit community, and the public sector can work together,” Stewart said.  

The showers opened Monday and are located at the corner of Palmer and Church Street, across from the Border Cafe. Stewart said shower users must practice social distancing.

One trailer houses eight showers, while another houses a handicap-accessible shower. Soaps, shampoos and conditioners are also available for those who need it.

Cambridge City Councilor Marc McGovern said the City encountered challenges turning the idea into a reality, such as finding available shower units and finding someone to do operations.

McGovern said the original plan was to place the units near Cambridge Common, but organizers needed more room for the Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible trailer.

The City had been planning to add public showers since April, McGovern said, because they are a step in the right direction toward ending the homelessness crisis.

“There’s all these things we have to do, but none of that is easy and none of that happens overnight,” he said. “So, what we have to do simultaneously is provide the Band-Aid to the intermediate things that are a necessity for people.”  

McGovern added the City has implemented other plans to help the homeless population during the pandemic, including a program that supplies meals from local restaurants to First Church Shelter and the provision of outdoor electric outlets. 

The showers are permitted to remain in their current lot through December, Stewart said, although an extension is under consideration. McGovern said there are not currently plans to expand the program. 

Stewart said the showers serve to address a community health issue, which would benefit more than solely those who are unhoused.

“It’s a true public health issue,” Stewart said. “The people who are most impacted are the homeless and unhoused, obviously, but the entire community is benefitting from this as well.”

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