Campus & Community

Students shelter homeless youth at Y2Y

4 min read

Harvard students create nation’s first student-run overnight shelter for youth

Y2Y Harvard Square is believed to be the nation’s first student-run homeless shelter exclusively for young adults. It is located at 1 Church St., in the heart of the Square, and serves youth from 18 to 24. A Phillips Brooks House Association program, Y2Y was founded by two Harvard College graduates and is staffed mostly by students at the College.

To obtain a bed for a 30-night stay, guests enter a lottery. No drugs or alcohol are allowed, and all guests are screened with a security check at the door. Single-night stays are available on a call-in basis. Y2Y can accommodate 27 people overnight, and provides showers, laundry facilities, clothing, computer access, breakfast, and dinner. Beyond basics, Y2Y offers help with housing, finding jobs, legal services, medical care, and provider referrals, and creates a personalized, nurturing atmosphere for its guests.

Guests outside 1 Church St. in Harvard Square wait for 7 p.m., when the Y2Y shelter opens and they can be admitted for dinner and the night. Guests can stay for up to 30 consecutive nights, then must re-enter a lottery for additional time.
Sleeping quarters at the Y2Y homeless shelter. Beds are somewhat enclosed in this three-tiered structure, with ladders providing access to the upper two levels. The arrangement gives a certain degree of privacy while still allowing guests to look out through windows.
Y2Y shelter guest Michael, 20, looks out from his upper-level bunk. He recently interviewed for a job, and hopes to be asked back for a follow-up.
Michael speaks with student director Nathan Cummings ’18 in the privacy of a bunk room for staffers who work the overnight shift. Harvard student directors such as Nathan, as well as Law School students and youth workers from outside agencies, are available nightly to help guests with housing, health, employment, and personal issues.
Michael displays his two most prized possessions, his phone and passport. Michael traveled to France recently to visit his aunt, who lives in Nice and paid his way. Michael is an avid Patriots fan, and recounts past playoff games with great passion, acting out plays by quarterback Tom Brady.
Julie Park ’17 (from left), Jina John ’17 of Harvard Law School, and Sue Wang ’17 confer while preparing dinner. Local restaurants donate much of the food. Some is simply reheated, or in the case of sandwiches, served cold, but students also get creative with pasta, rice, and vegetable dishes that provide healthy alternatives to ready-made meals.
Isabel Parkey ’19 prepares freshly picked fall greens from the Harvard Community Garden on Mount Auburn Street. An effort is made to serve fresh vegetables and fruits in season.
Guest Eva D. stands in the Y2Y shelter common space. She experienced domestic violence in her home. Eva, who is transgender, is very active on the part of LBGTQ and homeless youth. She currently works at a call center for several political and advocacy nonprofit organizations.
Guest Dyaunnhdre O., left, watches case manager Shreya Mathur ’18 look through housing listings. Dyaunnhdre would prefer to live in a familiar neighborhood.
Eva D. stands outside the Y2Y homeless shelter with two meals she was given by shelter staff. Her 30-day eligibility is up and she cannot come inside this evening. She will give one meal to a friend who is waiting down the street, then try to find another shelter where she can spend the night.
Y2Y shelter guest Dorell B. grew up in Roxbury, graduated from high school in Dorchester, and has attended two community colleges. A graffiti artist and performer of beat music, he is currently working for a ride service in a non-driving capacity.
Guests Dorell B. (from left) and Janet B. pose with fifth-year Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student Sam Wellington. Dorell is hoping to enroll at Bunker Hill Community College. Janet is studying to be a veterinarian at Roxbury Community College. Both appreciate the help Y2Y gives them with housing and job issues, as well as the stress-free environment there. Sam studies tuberculosis and will be getting her Ph.D. in chemical biology this spring. She volunteers for nearly 30 hours a week, and appreciates the people focus at Y2Y, so different from her lab work.
A guest is buzzed into the Y2Y homeless shelter in time for dinner, an overnight stay, and some personal attention. For some, the friendly, nurturing atmosphere at the shelter might feel a bit like the home they always wanted but never had.