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Online effort leads to blankets for Cambridge’s homeless

Councilor gets quick action

There is a crowdfunding campaign for just about everything.

People ask for money online to build a cooler with a built-in blender; they unite to fund the making of a movie.

Now, there is this campaign to consider: “Help us buy warm blankets for the homeless in Cambridge.” (Hint: no high-tech components needed; good old wool does the job.)

In just two days, an Indiegogo campaign set up by Cambridge Councilor Marc McGovern reached its goal of collecting $6,000 for 750 warm blankets.

“I was serving food at a shelter this month and was surprised that a lot of people said what they needed right away was something as basic as a warm blanket to make it through the winter,” said McGovern.


A first-time city councilor and former School Committee member and social worker, McGovern is a man of action and pragmatism. “I don’t know much about crowdfunding, but it seemed the fastest way to get blankets into people’s hands.”

It is an unconventional move, and one allowing McGovern to avoid bureaucracy that could get in the way of good intentions. But this is Cambridge, the city that commands an operating budget upward of $500 million and hosts local offices from some of the wealthiest companies in the world.

Which begs the question: Why does a city councilor have to raise $6,000 online for blankets to keep the homeless warm?

The closing of the Long Island shelter is contributing to a shortage of shelter beds everywhere in Greater Boston. In Cambridge, there are about 9,000 individuals or families on waiting lists for affordable housing in the city.

Also, the number of people who live below the poverty line, especially blacks and Hispanics, continues to rise in Cambridge, in spite of the economic boom.


“We are creating this sort of apartheid system here,” said Jim Stewart, program director at the First Church shelter in Cambridge.

“A lot of communities would be very grateful to have Cambridge’s revenue streams. If the city wanted to step up, they could certainly find money to set up emergency beds for winter so lives at risk are taken care of.”

“Blankets are great," Stewart added, “but the only thing that really does make a difference is putting significant resources into services. Our phone rings every hour every day and into the night with a request for a bed. People are stuck in desperate situations.”

It is not that McGovern isn’t working on the bigger issues.

“I understand that what the homeless really need is beds,” he said. “But if I can’t get them beds right away, I can at least get them a blanket.”

McGovern tapped into the Harvard Square Business Association to help promote his campaign, and he considered working with the city or a local nonprofit instead of going with Indiegogo.

But he knew that would slow down the process significantly.

“We are having these ongoing, complicated conversations about how to improve the situation in the city,” said McGovern.

“We are in our ninth year of a 10-year plan to combat poverty and homelessness, and we are nowhere near where we wanted to be,’’ he said. “We have these great partnerships with nonprofits but in the end, we are not doing enough.”


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Stefanie Friedhoff can be reached at stefanie.friedhoff@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @Stefanie2000.