Students and congregation members celebrated the opening of the newly renovated Harvard Square Homeless Shelter at a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday.
The shelter, which has existed in the basement of the University Lutheran Church since 1983 as the "UniLu" shelter, has taken on the new name and a new image with the renovations. A revamped entrance and entirely refurbished interior are aimed at making the location more welcoming to guests.
With entertainment provided by the Harvard Din and Tonics and refreshments donated by local businesses, spectators at the ceremony admired the new facility.
The formerly makeshift shelter in the church's basement was redesigned into a welcoming and accommodating space. Before the renovations, guests of the shelter entered through a set of fire stairs next to a dumpster, one of the only ways to access the church's basement level.
The shelter, which reopens to guests Nov. 15, is equipped for 23 guests each night and guarantees a hot meal to anyone who comes through. Architect Robert Olson redesigned the space to give guests their own entrance on the corner of Winthrop and Dunster streets, where shelter staff can greet guests in a welcoming open reception area in the middle of the shelter.
UniLu has come a long way from its first years, when guests were put on mattresses on the floor. Now the shelter is furnished with new cafe-style tables, freestanding wardrobe-style closets, bunk beds and a lounge for the student-volunteers.
An important part of the contemporary-styled design is that the beds in the sleeping area and the tables in the meeting area can be arranged, providing flexibility to both the staff and guests.
The shelter's Emergency Director, Jennine B. Mazzarelli '01, said the improved facilities such as new plumbing, wiring, and ventilation systems, as well as more storage, showers and laundry facilities will have significant impact on the guests' quality of life.
"The shelter doesn't look like a basement anymore," she said. "It's more welcoming."
As the nation's only student-run shelter, raising the $800,000 for the project was a joint effort between students, the University and the church.
The church's stewardship committee called upon Harvard alumni and the 350 members of the congregation to raise over $1 million, which helped to fund renovations for both the shelter and the church.
Students organized fundraisers for the project, including a walk-a-thon at the Gordon Indoor Track and Tennis Center that raised over $2,000. The University put up $25,000 in matching funds toward the project.
One student volunteer, Melissa A. Morris '01, said she is enthusiastic about the new face of the shelter but also recognizes that it could also present challenges. Since the shelter has never been handicapped accessible before, she anticipates more handicapped guests, along with other logistical changes.
Tom Chittick, reverend of the University Lutheran Church, hopes that student volunteers at the shelter will become so passionate about their service there that they will look into studying policy issues, and after leaving college will address and help to remedy the issue of homelessness in this country.
Chittick hopes to soon employ a work-study graduate student at the shelter to act as a facilitator to help the undergraduate volunteers process their experiences and point them toward courses at the University dealing with issues of homelessness, poverty and social justice.
Alina Das '01, student director at the shelter, looks forward to the shelter's reopening in two weeks.
"The excitement from the community I've seen tonight will be reflected by the guests," Das said. "That's a nice feeling."
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