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Shelter to Reopen After $800K Facelift

After major renovations costing more than $850,000, the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter at the University Lutheran Church, the only student-run shelter in America, is aiming for a November 15 re-opening.

The University Lutheran Church on Winthrop Street, which has housed the "UniLu" shelter in its basement since the early 1980s, contributed $800,000 to the renovations, while student volunteers raised $25,000 through solicitations and a recent walk-a-thon, a sum matched by the University.

Enhancements to the shelter include additional showers, a wheelchair accessible entrance, improved counseling and work space and dining area, two laundry machines, and stronger partitions for the women's bedrooms.

"In the past, plumbing was a big problem, and there was only one shower for all the guests, in the men's bathroom - so every time a woman needed to shower we had to cordon off the men's room," says Jennine B. Mazzarelli '01, an emergency director for the shelter. "Now the bathrooms look great--there is a shower in the women's room too, and overall the place looks much more welcoming - which is important if you're trying to give people a real home to live in."

Alina Das '01, volunteer director, says she thinks the renovations will make a big difference to the guests, some of whom live in the shelter for up to six months.

"Before the renovations, we really weren't equipped for 23 guests," Das says. "We're excited to see how our guests react to the changes."

In addition to its name change and physical improvements, the maximum amount of time regular guests can spend at the shelter has been extended from one week to two and is renewable after a week's absence.

This decision gives the guests extra time in which to find work and suitable housing from a stable base.

"After all, our main aim is to get people out of homelessness - they need long term help, and the two week period means we have a better chance to connect them to resources that can help them re-establish themselves in the community," Mazzarelli says.

Meanwhile, the costs of running the shelter are set to increase greatly this year due to salary raises for the shelter's security guards and the costs of improved heating systems and other features after the renovations, according to Administrative Director Lee M. Hampton '01.

But while many aspects of the shelter have changed since last year, the motivation for volunteers has not.

"You see people who have very little going for them come into the shelter," Mazzarelli says, "but in the end some of them manage to make it out of homelessness - and that's really rewarding."

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