Student-Run Shelter Reopens for Season
Shelter faces budget cuts, increases fundraising in time of housing crisis
Volunteers are planning to make up the lost funds and maintain quality by a campaign of fundraising and solicitations.
The shelter, called Unilu for short, is the only one in the nation run entirely by students, and the only one in Boston staffed by volunteers.
It stays open for the winter, from Nov. 15 to April 15.
Because of Acting Governor Jane Swift’s statewide budget cuts, the organization that provides the majority of Unilu’s funds—the Massachusetts Housing And Shelter Alliance—has cut the shelter’s yearly budget by 11 percent, about $5,500, according to Unilu Financial Director Julia G. Kiechel ’04.
While the cutbacks haven’t threatened to shut down the shelter, if not made up they would require a sacrifice in quality, according to Kiechel.
“The majority of our expenses are fixed,” Kiechel said, referring to costs like rent and electricity. “So if we come up short, the only thing we can cut is our food budget or our administrative overhead budget.”
Those administrative funds go to buy things like toiletries, T-shirts and socks for the shelter’s guests.
“We’d have to buy less food or cheaper food which wouldn’t be as healthy,” said Kiechel, who is also a Crimson editor.
Volunteer Director Michelle Kuo ’03 added that the cuts have come at a crucial and difficult time.
Guests Friday praised the shelter for the positive way it treats them and for the safe, quiet environment that it fosters.
“They treat us like kings and queens here,” said guest Maria Joubert.
As a “dry” shelter Unilu will not give a bed to anyone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“It’s not like Pine Street or Long Island, where you get your drunks, you get your dope addicts,” said guest David Walsh, who is originally from Brockton.
“These budget cuts are coming at a time of the biggest housing crisis in Boston in 25 years,” said Kuo. “As a shelter, we are trying to take on that burden.”
To compensate for shortages, Unilu held a fundraising dinner and auction in conjunction with the United Lutheran Church, which raised about $2,300.
They will also be stepping up their grant application process this year and more actively soliciting donations of sheets, blankets and toiletries.
To defray costs, they receive donations of food from area restaurants including Au Bon Pain and Campo de Fiore and the Adams and Quincy House dining halls.
Kuo said that the area restaurants have really come forward to help after the cuts.
Despite the setbacks, shelter leaders said the opening night was a success.
With just a few minutes remaining before it opened for the season, the shelter was abuzz.
Directors and volunteers scurried around mixing orange juice, checking on supplies of sheets and towels and planning for dinner. The smell of coffee and pork chops permeated the air.
When the doors opened at 7 p.m., the staff flooded out to greet a mix newcomers and returning guests, giving hugs and shaking hands.
Joubert, who with her husband Rick has lived at Unilu periodically over the last four winters, had good news for the volunteers.
She and her husband will be moving into their own apartment on Dec. 1.
“It was the best Christmas present of my life,” Joubert said, describing the phone call last year informing her that she and her husband had received a subsidized housing spot. “I started crying on the phone.”
The volunteers had high hopes for the season.
“I’m very excited; everyone’s looking forward to this,” said Director Mariam F. Eskander ’05.
“We’ve planned well...there aren’t many things that can go wrong,” she concluded.