Operators advise city to seek alternative site due to funds, staffing
Chief of Health and Human Services Lauren Buck was at this week’s City Council meeting to provide an update on the warming center at the Rosetti-Cowan Senior Center which caused so much angst when it was first proposed. Seniors feared the warming center would disrupt senior center programing and put vulnerable seniors at risk for contracting covid and other illnesses.
Buck began her report with some numbers. Despite the unusually mild winter, some 593 guests, which represent 93 unique individuals, visited the warming center from January 15 through March 31. An average of four people a night were at the warming center in January; eight visitors a night came to the center in February; and in March an average of 10 people a night escaped the cold at the warming center. During the three months of operation, warming center staff made three calls to police. One call was for a medical issue and the other two calls were for problems that were deescalated quickly.
“There were three nights when we met full capacity,” or 15 guests, Buck told the council.
Buck said the warming center was a safe operation and there were no major issues with the building and no disruption of senior center activities.
The warming center was staffed and operated by Housing Families, Inc., a Malden-based organization that provides emergency shelter and affordable housing to area residents in need. Buck said the city had a good relationship with Housing Families staff, which she described as very professional.
Several security cameras were installed at the senior center, including one at the front door that will continue to be maintained.
According to Buck, once the warming center was up and running, staff began to see gradual signs of acceptance. The senior center bocce league, which vehemently opposed the warming center, came back to play at the senior center in March. Residents also offered gifts and donations to the center during extreme cold snaps. “That showed we had some acceptance of the operation,” said Buck.
Buck also reported there was no transmission of illnesses between guests and warming center staff or guests and senior center members. There were, however, a few minor challenges. Seniors were bothered by the smell of cleaning products that were used to clean the warming center multiple times a week, and there were complaints about cigarette butts outside the building. Buck said it was important to hear those complaints so problems could be resolved as quickly as possible.
Housing Families advised the city to consider an alternative site because the senior center site used two floors, which required more staff and thus more funding. “We’ve proven that there is a need for this,” Buck told councillors, adding that sources of funding to keep a warming center open next winter should be found.
Councillor-at-Large Marc Silvestri, who passionately advocated for the warming center during a meeting with a crowd of nervous seniors who opposed the idea, said, “As we can see, the warming center was a success. I would like to keep this an ongoing dialog for next year.”
Ward 6 Councillor Richard Serino agreed. “I think we all remember the hullabaloo about the warming center last January, and we see now that all that fear was just that, fear mongering,” said Serino. “I won’t be here next year, but I sincerely hope we have the warming center again and that it’s at the senior center.”