Student Homeless Shelters Attract Influx of Volunteers

After starting the semester with a joint volunteer recruitment effort, both the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and the newly opened Y2Y Youth Homeless Shelter had more volunteers apply for shifts than could be accommodated.

“We saw an incredible turn out,” said Isobel W. Green ’17, administrative director of HSHS. “It shows that the student body has embraced these two shelters and made them theirs.”

Elizabeth Warren at Y2Y Opening
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke at the opening celebration for Y2Y Harvard Square this past November.

Given earlier concerns that with two shelters, there wouldn’t be enough volunteers to cover all the positions, both organizations joined together and focused on publicizing the shelters more intensely.

“We’ve done a lot of outreach, more than last year,” Green said. “We added upwards of 150 positions and we weren’t sure if the community would be able to support it.”

In response to the overwhelming interest of volunteers, both shelters are trying to accommodate those who were unable to get a position.

“We’re really trying to get people involved and we hate that we don’t have space for everyone who wants to be involved,” Anais Carell ’17, Y2Y’s Administrative Director, said. “We’re trying to find opportunities for people who couldn’t get a regular shift to get involved with things like deep-cleans for the shelter, or other one-time, irregular things people can help out with.”

However, Green objected to using the word “surplus” to describe the situation. Despite the excess of volunteers, some shifts are still in need of volunteers.

“Surplus is a misnomer,” Green said. “People apply for specific shifts that work for them. We have a couple of overnight shifts still open.”

The process of applying to work for both Y2Y and HSHS is not one based on skills or previous experience with homeless people, but one based on availability and shift preference.

“It’s not a comp process,” Green said. “We take it based on people’s shift preferences. We believe pretty strongly in not weeding people out based on their qualifications. We think everyone has a great amount of energy and ability to contribute to service.”

The exhibited interest of volunteers proved to the shelters they both have strong community support.

“While it’s unfortunate that not everyone can get a shift, it’s really heartening that both shelters are getting all the support they need,” Carell said.

—Staff Writer Kier Zimmerman can be reached at kier.zimmerman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kierjwz.

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