Editor’s note: The following petition was drafted by Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan and is reprinted here in the public interest. Read “Cambridge Plan to Warehouse Homeless Could Spark COVID Outbreak” by DigBoston’s Jason Pramas for more background.
MIT Harvard Petition
Click here to sign the petition!
Academic institutions must use their tremendous resources to lead in this time of global pandemic, national emergency, and economic crisis. With most students home, the universities’ dormitories need to be put to use in order to relieve some of the unprecedented stress on our hospitals and communities from the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
MIT and Harvard have not yet answered this call. While generously offering to house first responders, both universities have refused to host an emergency shelter for unhoused community members, leaving the city with no better option than to outfit the highschool gymnasium with porta potties and hope for the best. This approach risks exposing everyone at the shelter to COVID-19 infection, and given the underlying health conditions suffered by many who are experiencing homelessness, many will die if we proceed in this manner.
Recognizing that this refusal to house the homeless does not look good, MIT and Harvard
quickly agreed to donate $250,000 each to help fund the construction of the emergency shelter. Of course the financial contribution is greatly appreciated, and the funds will undoubtedly help in our ability to care for this vulnerable population. But these funds are not nearly enough, and what is much more critically needed is physical space to provide safe housing for everyone who needs to be physically isolated, including all community members currently experiencing homelessness. Anything less is unconscionable and morally unjust, considering that the alternative is literally to condemn many of our unhoused residents to death.
Frankly, it seems that MIT and Harvard are trying to get away with doing only the bare minimum for our community. MIT has agreed to host first responders who need to isolate in one or two dorms on campus, and Harvard has made their hotel available for healthcare workers and city staff to protect their family members and housemates from potential exposure. Why not house other community members who need shelter to isolate and keep themselves and their loved ones safe?
MIT’s and Harvard’s response pales in comparison to what other nearby institutions are doing, despite a vast difference in resources. On March 18, Tufts University President Anthony Monaco laid out five steps that Tufts planned to take and urged other higher ed leaders to begin making similar plans immediately. Tufts has completely transformed the campus, dividing it into sections to safely treat different populations that need care. They have done everything possible to reduce the immense burden on Medford, Somerville, and area hospitals at this time. Harvard and MIT meanwhile, with endowments of $40 billion and $17 billion respectively, have offered to donate a pittance to an unsafe emergency shelter to house the homeless.
Meanwhile, MIT continues to soldier on with construction at the Volpe site, their $750 million investment property which will eventually house millions of square feet of commercial and residential space. Moving ahead with this project is putting the lives of construction workers and their families at risk and openly defies the city’s ban on non-essential construction.
As students, alumni, and community members, we are disappointed and frustrated by Harvard’s and MIT’s lackluster response. They love to talk about being strong community partners when it benefits them during more prosperous times, but in the middle of a global pandemic they are totally letting us down. But it’s never too late to do the right thing, and we call on MIT and Harvard to step it up and respond to this crisis with the scale and speed that is needed and that their resources allow. We call on each university to:
- Open up all available dormitories, cafeterias and other unused spaces to provide food and shelter for those who need it.
- Donate at least $5 million each to the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund.
- Dedicate all available laboratory, staff, faculty and student resources to work on vaccine development, antiviral drugs and other pandemic response tools that will help us recover from this crisis and prepare for the next one.
We are all in this together, and saving our communities from ruin is in the best interest of the universities. We have faith that you will do the right thing.
Click here to sign the petition!