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New Area Cooperative Founded

Group Tries to Promote Sense of Community for Homeless

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Students and area activists are trying to revive a "drop-in" cooperative meeting place for homeless people several months after new construction forced the closing of a former location.

Although it has met several times in various locations around the Square, students said that the group has not found a permanent location. They said they will soon send letters out to local churches, synagogues, the Cambridge City Council and other organizations in an attempt to find one.

The cooperative is intended to provide a safe and friendly place for homeless people and area residents to interact, especially during the hours after lunch meal programs close and before night shelters open, volunteers said.

Cooperative members said that they hope they can also offer a place where homeless can receive mail, make and receive phone calls and listen to live music.

The cooperative will serve as a place where "people of different socioeconomic, cultural, racial and religious backgrounds get to know each other," said cooperative member Joel B. Gerwin '92.

While most meal programs have volunteers serve food to homeless people, leading to what members described as an unequal relationship, the cooperative emphasizes equality among members. "For Harvard students involved, this is not a charity project," said Ben E. Wizner '93.

Members said that serving meals was not their primary purpose, but George E. Despotes, a Harvard Square homeless person who has been involved with the group, said that meal service was the most critical need.

But Despotes said that he still supported the cooperative's efforts. "I'm very hopeful something good will come out of it," he said.

Before closing in August, 1989, the former drop-in, located at St. Paul's parish, operated three days a week to provide a place for interaction between students, parish members, and homeless, said Father John P. Boles, pastor chaplain at the church.

But Harvard has purchased the rectory at 34 Mt. Auburn St., along with the adjoining parking lot, to build new affiliated housing, and the drop-in was shut down because of the "space crunch," Boles said.

The new group trying to reestablish a cooperative is not affiliated with St. Paul's parish. The volunteers have been actively involved in other local programs to help the homeless.

The group is composed of Harvard undergraduates, homeless people, lower income Cambridge residents and community activists.

"The most original thing being done here is that different groups who perceive themselves as different are working together," said Gerwin.

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