Coming in off the Street

YMCA Provides Shelter, Guidance for Homeless Men

For the past week, Jim has called the Cambridge YMCA home.

He considers living in the YMCA's residence for homeless men quite an improvement from the half-way house where he used to live.

And Jim, 39, regards his current situation a significant breakthrough from eight months ago--when he tried to kill himself.

He suffered from substance abuse, and he thought his life had reached a dead-end.

"I was on Revere Beach with a gun to my head," he says. "I hit fucking rock-bottom. I was in the gutter looking up."


But now he has found a home in the YMCA's Mervyn D. Demille Residence, established in 1896, which provides single rooms to more than 100 homeless men to help them get back on their feet.

The center provides a variety of housing programs, including free and low-cost units, and a number of counseling and job placement opportunities.

Ronald P. Lahti, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, and the Vice President of Residence and Counseling Services at the YMCA runs the program out of the building at 820 Mass. Ave.

The residence, Lahti says, serves as a "stepping stone" for its residents.

"They forget how to live" while living on the street, he says. "One of our jobs is to re-educate people in basic living skills."

Jim, and other residents interviewed, requested that their real names not be used in order to protect their anonymity.

Jim stares at the ground in the sparsely decorated YMCA lounge. Occasionally, he looks up to talk about his old job as a machine operator, his addiction and the suicide attempt--and his new life at the center. "I am still confused and screwed up. I am a sick individual," he says.

But Jim says he has started to put his life in order. He has been clean since March, and says he has benefited from living at the center.

The residence, named after a former president of the Cambridge YMCA, recently completed its $5 million renovation.

The hallways of the living quarters are clean, with posterless walls painted off-white, adding a feeling of sterility to the environment, while the soothing colors of the door frames and stairwell belie the dark, lifeless hallway.

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