Harvard Homeless Weather Sandy

Merlin waited out the wind and rains of Hurricane Sandy in an alleyway in Harvard Square, hunkering with other homeless people in an attempt to stay dry.

“There was no one out. No places were open, so there was no access to food,” he said. “Those two days were rough.... Some people had stocked up on food, but the worst part was not having any blankets to stay warm.”

For Merlin, who only gave his first name, and many others who had to brave the elements, the storm on Monday and Tuesday meant an added challenge on top of the daily struggles of homelessness.

Patrick, a 26-year-old who also declined to give his last name, stayed with a couple who regularly opens up their home to those in need during storms. Initially unprepared for the hurricane, he said he and his dog were lucky to find a place to stay.

“I didn’t know about it until a couple of days before, and thought, ‘Oh, God, I need to get inside,’” he said. The couple with whom he stayed were vegetarians who did not have alcohol or drugs in the house, and he said it was “good to be sober for a couple of days.”

Another man, who gave his name as ‘Chaser,’ said that he and two other squatters spent two hours walking to Oak Square in Boston, where they took refuge in a friend’s single-bedroom apartment. They ate deep-fried chicken and seasoned rice, purchased with a friend’s food stamps.

Now that the skies have cleared up, he is back sleeping on the streets. “I don’t like to be a hindrance to people or ask for help unless it’s a real emergency,” he said, tightening the sweater wrapped around his dog.

Merlin, Patrick, and Chaser all said they did not consider staying in a homeless shelter. While the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter does not open for the winter until Nov. 15, the Salvation Army shelter in Central Square housed about 10 people over its normal quota of 49.

Patrick said he avoids shelters because “most of the time they’re filled up all the way.”

For Chaser, a 29-year-old ex-drug addict, it “infuriates” him to stay in shelters with people who are not sober. He has weathered a few New England winters, typically hopping on freight trains during the colder months. This year, he said, he has no choice but to stay in the area. He was arrested for squatting in an abandoned theater, consequently losing his job of 4.5 years at a Cambridge restaurant and club. While he awaits his next court date, he must stay in Massachusetts. Furthermore, he said, he wants to “be a dad” for his 9-year-old son, who lives with his grandmother in Southern Massachusetts.

In the aftermath of the storm, Merlin sat on Mass. Ave. with a cardboard sign reading “Seeking Human Kindness.” Through dirt-caked eyelashes and a toothless grin, he reflected on the hurricane, “On behalf of everyone out here, I just give thanks for people coming out and helping us.”

—Staff writer Anneli L. Tostar can be reached at annelitostar@college.harvard.edu.

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