Harvard Homeless Shelter Kicks Off Year

With the aroma of pasta and green beans in the air, the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter hosted its opening dinner last night at its headquarters in the University Lutheran Church.

The dinner commemorated the shelter’s 26th anniversary and marked the beginning of its active season, which runs from November 15 to April 15.

The shelter, founded by four Harvard Divinity School Students in 1983, houses 24 homeless people each night during the year’s coldest months, and remains the nation’s only student-run homeless shelter.

The shelter’s work contract director, Eleanor R. Wilking ’09, began the event by noting that the dinner was “a little bit bittersweet” because, “we envision a day when our services as an emergency homeless shelter will no longer be needed.”

A number of student volunteers then gave presentations about the state of homelessness in the Boston area.

Shane P. Donovan ’09 and Adam S. Travis ’10 noted that the local homeless tend to have high school diplomas, and that the majority are either parents or young children.

Peter N. Ganong ’09 also announced the results of last year’s endowment campaign.

Audience members playfully drum-rolled as he revealed that $130,000 dollars had been raised to ensure the shelter’s financial stability.

The event also included special guest speaker Diane Hopson, who lived at the shelter for two months last year.

Hopson is now employed at the mayor’s office and will receive a graduate degree in nonprofit management from the Harvard Extension School this summer.

Hopson praised the shelter’s volunteers, saying, “The staff is outstanding. If you haven’t heard that, know it’s true. They’re all beautiful.”

She also lauded the way the shelter is run. “This is a shelter where not only will they treat you well, they’ll feed you well, too,” Hopson said.

As the Homeless Shelter looks toward the coming year, its staff hopes to implement a number of new programs.

The shelter will focus on nutrition in the coming months, aiming to combat growing obesity among the homeless.

This year will also mark the beginning of a street outreach program, in which students will venture into Cambridge to provide services to the homeless.

“We’re really just trying to make it a better program each year,” said volunteer Shu Yang ’10.

Wilking said the many groups that support the shelter—including the Phillips Brooks House Association, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, the University Lutheran Church, and students themselves—rarely get an opportunity to convene in one room.

“Even if it’s only once a year, it’s nice to bring everyone into the same space,” she said. “We build this community together, and the challenge is only how we make it stronger.”