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Crowd attends CASPAR groundbreaking

Innovators in Cambridge have worked out a unique solution to a human service problem--with benefits for all parties.

The City of Cambridge, MIT, the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Drug Abuse and Alcoholism (CASPAR), and members of the Cambridge community came together to face the difficult challenge of siting a shelter in Cambridge for homeless individuals who have addiction problems.

In a successful resolution, MIT took on the unusual role for a university of building the shelter for CASPAR, at a cost of about $1.9 million, on the 240 Albany Street site that the Institute has leased rent-free to the group for 14 years. Thursday, Oct. 28, 1993 ground was broken for the new shelter.

"It is not the ordinary mission of a university to find a site and finance a building for a health and human services agency such as CASPAR, but MIT had been committed to CASPAR for 14 years, and it was clear that the Cambridge community wanted the services of CASPAR," said President Charles M. Vest at the groundbreaking.

CASPAR had been intensively searching for a location for its Cambridge operations without being able to locate an appropriate site. The Emergency Service Center had been temporarily located in trailers on a site donated by MIT on its campus-a site CASPAR planned to use until it found a new home.

When a site could not be identified, MIT, the City of Cambridge and the Cambridge City Council worked together to forge an agreement. MIT committed to build CASPAR a shelter on MIT property, the existing site, and lease the building to CASPAR for $1 per year for 20 years, which could ultimately be extended to 40 years. In exchange, the city transferred ownership to MIT of part of Amherst Street and leases for Carleton and Hayward Streets, along with a portion of the sidewalks on Vassar Street and with easements for a combination of bridges and tunnels.

"Many other communities would never have the dynamic we've had to go through all the gyrations to get a solution that is win/win," said Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves.

"President Vest is to be congratulated for his vision and his understanding of the nature of community. With his leadership MIT and Cambridge have joined together to address the problem of shelter and safety for troubled members of our community," Mayor Reeves continued. "The city applauds the efforts of neighbors, MIT and members of the city council-Councillors Myers, Wolf and Russell."

Jonathan Myers was appointed by Mayor Reeves to chair the siting committee. City Councillors Sheila Russell and Alice Wolf, along with a variety of people representing a cross-section of the Cambridge community, also served on the committee.

"This groundbreaking marks a new day not only for CASPAR but for the Cambridge community," said Richard M. Brescia, president of CASPAR. "We're grateful to MIT, President Vest and all the staff whose input made this a reality for us. We're thankful for the mayor's leadership and Bob Healy's technical assistance which kept the project moving forward."

The problem was resolved, but it took countless hours of time, meetings and lots of determination from all sides. City Manager Robert Healy neatly summed up the mood at the groundbreaking in his remarks, taken from the fortune on the tag of his tea bag-"Failure is the line of least persistence."

A version of this article appeared in the November 3, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 12).

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