In this week's guest post, Sam Greenberg and Sarah Rosenkrantz reflect on the experiences that led them to launch Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run overnight shelter for young adults experiencing homelessness. Sam and Sarah are recent graduates of Harvard College, where they were student leaders at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, a program of the Phillips Brooks House Association. Y2Y Harvard Square is scheduled to open in November 2015.
Pictured in the photo above: Sam (top row, sixth from the left) and Sarah (bottom row, third from the left) celebrate Y2Y's progress with their team of student volunteers.
“If something like this had existed when I was 18, 19 or 20, maybe I wouldn’t still be homeless today.”
When we heard these words from one of the members of the Y2Y Harvard Square Young Adult Advisory Council (YAAC), the importance of Y2Y became real to us. As two young adults with supportive families, we found it difficult to imagine the possibility of experiencing homelessness ourselves. However, when we learned that this was not the case for so many of our peers – that young adults are sleeping on the streets in our community – we knew that Y2Y had to become a reality.
Our dedication to responding to homelessness in our community began with our work at the student-run Harvard Square Homeless Shelter (HSHS). A program of the Phillips Brooks House Association, HSHS provides shelter to adults experiencing homelessness from November to April every year. Working at HSHS was the best thing we did in college, as it transformed our perspectives on homelessness, inequality and social justice. There, we could be part of the provision of safe and supportive services to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. It was empowering and inspiring to see what we could do together as a community.
But we also saw challenges. We turned away dozens of people each night at the door. We felt the frustration, knowing that homelessness has continued to grow in Greater Boston. And most importantly, we recognized the incredible lack of resources for young adults ages 18 to 24, who often avoid adult shelters because of their lack of age-appropriate resources to accommodate the unique needs of young adults.
At the same time, we found that we were turning away many students each year from HSHS volunteer opportunities due to capacity constraints, and we realized we had the volunteer force to address a critical community need. So we took our idea, a student-run shelter for young adults ages 18 to 24, to a variety of experts in the Greater Boston area to learn about whether this kind of intervention would be effective in working with young adults who are experiencing homelessness, and whether we would be able to rely on a network of partner organizations to help us provide effective services.
In learning about the needs of young adults who experience homelessness, we realized that homelessness can happen for any number of reasons: young adults age out of the foster care system without adequate supports, are kicked out of their homes for their gender identity or sexual orientation, or are forced out of their homes due to a variety of economic, legal and health challenges. Thanks to organizations like MHSA, we learned that a short-term intervention, coupled with effective resources and referrals, can often make the critical difference between brief and long-term homelessness. We learned that by building supportive relationships with guests, we could work with them to access the resources they need. We were energized by the outpouring of positive feedback that we received from the vast network of partners to whom we brought our idea: service providers, young adults experiencing homelessness, advocates, policy makers, and faith leaders were excited for Y2Y Harvard Square to become a reality.
Y2Y Harvard Square is on track to open this November, and we are excited to collaborate with the young adults we will serve to develop a sanctuary with easily accessible pathways out of homelessness. We look forward to continuing to work with amazing partners like MHSA as we develop leadership and advocacy programming with the goal of ending young adult homelessness. Because if we have learned anything from this process, it is that in order to truly make progress in this effort, we must do it together.