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An Inside Look At How Somerville Prepared to Keep Community Safe During Historic Cold Snap

The first weekend of February 2023 will be remembered by many in the Somerville community for the extreme, biting cold that abruptly interrupted an otherwise mild winter season. Like many of our neighbors, City of Somerville staff had to quickly shift gears to prepare to help keep the community safe. 

The historic cold temperatures impacted the entire community. Somerville’s ISD inspectors responded to 43 weather-related emergency calls between February 4-5. Their teams also relocated over 150 residents displaced due to burst pipes or heat outages. However, as in any severe weather event, the most vulnerable population was Somerville’s unhoused population.

Weather reports indicated Somerville would experience windchills plunging down to -31 degrees overnight. At temperatures like that, frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes. In response, Mayor Katjana Ballantyne led an immense operation to not only connect members of the unhoused community with existing resources in Somerville, but also stand up an emergency warming center to provide a safe overnight space. Members of the Somerville Homeless Coalition, volunteers from the MetroEast Medical Reserve Corps and CERT teams, and staff from 13 City departments mobilized to create an emergency warming center at the West Branch Library.

“A thoughtful and collaborative response to an evolving weather emergency is often easier said than done, but that is exactly what happened to open the warming center,” said Mayor Ballantyne. “I want to thank our advocacy partners, volunteers, and City personnel  for their passion and commitment to helping their neighbors. Because of their tireless efforts we created a safe, welcoming space for unhoused individuals, as well as residents experiencing emergency displacement during the coldest temperatures in a century.”

In spite of some unique logistical challenges, advocates and staff created a space that emanated warmth, kindness and compassion for over 30 people who otherwise may have had nowhere to find shelter from the cold. 

As the ongoing climate crisis makes severe weather increasingly common, the City of Somerville will continue to work tirelessly to support and create services that reach unhoused individuals where they are, and help them to stay safe, and find care and compassion when it’s needed most. 

The City of Somerville is also expanding resources to help unhoused individuals every day. Opening the emergency warming center provided important learning opportunities as the Somerville Homeless Coalition prepares to open a first-of-its-kind Engagement Center funded by the City. The Center is on schedule to fully open this winter, and will be open Monday through Friday during business hours, when most shelters are closed. Clients will have increased opportunities to meet with service providers or use a range of essential resources like mail and internet. All residents are encouraged to check City communication channels to learn more about how they can get involved in the Engagement Center and continue to create a Somerville that values progress for all.

How You Can Help

Supporting Somerville’s unhoused does not end when the weather improves. Community members can get involved by volunteering with the Somerville Homeless Coalition, as well as MA Responds, which oversees the Metro East Medical Reserve Corp that serves the Somerville area. 

There are various roles available for volunteers to support the work of the Somerville Homeless Coalition including assisting Somerville’s HHS Prevention Services Manager assemble  backpacks filled with supplies needed to support those living in outdoor conditions, as well as participating in Narcan Distribution tabling events. 

MA Responds is looking for volunteers of all skill levels and backgrounds from both medical and non-medical professions. To join the Corps serving Somerville, select Region 4B - Greater Boston then Metro East chapter when you’re signing up to volunteer.

Thank you letter to Somerville Homeless Coalition

Thank you letter sent to the Somerville Homeless Coalition

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