Youth Homeless Shelter Initiative Secures Funding

The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter Youth Initiative, the first overnight shelter to cater to the youth population of Cambridge, has received a rare government grant that will help fund its operating costs for the next 15 years.

According to the Initiative’s co-directors, Sarah A. Rosenkrantz ’14 and Sam G. Greenberg ’14, the Cambridge Housing Authority has agreed to provide the initiative with an operating contract of $50,000 a year once the shelter opens next fall.

“[The CHA sees] this as an opportunity to house a particularly hard-to-house population, which is young people,” Greenberg said.

The move is unusual for the CHA. Housing authorities typically refrain from funding projects, such as homeless shelters, that fall outside the realm of affordable, permanent housing.

The CHA, however, was given extra leeway from the Department of Housing and Urban Development because its programs are more successful than those of most authorities, according to Greenberg. He noted that CHA has benefited from easy access to Harvard and MIT professors with expertise in urban development.

Greenberg and Rosenkrantz plan to tailor their shelter specifically for homeless youth by introducing features that differ from traditional shelter practices. For example, the shelter will include gender-neutral sleeping quarters and bathrooms since up to 40 percent of the youth homeless population nationally identifies as BGLTQ.

“There really isn’t a model for it,” Rosenkrantz said, adding that they hope to develop an arrangement that would be feasible for other shelters across the country to emulate.

They plan to partner with Youth on Fire, a daytime drop-in center in the Square that provides services such as hot meals and counseling.

Youth on Fire, which was considering a move to Central Square last spring due to a lack of funding, was able to remain in its current location near the Law School campus after receiving additional assistance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Office of HIV/AIDS, according to Carl Sciortino, executive director of AIDS Action Committee. The committee is the parent organization for Youth on Fire.

“That funding provides a partial investment in the overall deficit the program currently faces, but gives us enough stability to remain in place while pursuing other funding,” Sciortino said.

Greenberg and Rosencrantz said the shelter will either share space with Youth on Fire in Harvard-Epworth Methodist Church or set up at a church down the street, the First Parish in Cambridge.

As they move forward, Greenberg and Rosenkrantz said they are receiving advice from not only Youth on Fire but also faculty on the shelter's board, whose members include Dean of Public Service Gene A. Corbin and Cabot House master Stephanie Khurana.

“There is an incredible energy for this project because there’s such a need,” Greenberg said.

—Staff writer Sonali Y. Salgado can be reached at sonali.salgado@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @SonaliSalgado16.

—Staff writer Caroline T. Zhang can be reached at caroline.zhang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineTZhang.

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