Hot Chocolate and Hope: Medical Van Offers Homeless Teenagers a Warm Place

It's a cold, rainy night, and the Pit is virtually deserted. The teenagers--many of them runaways or homeless--who while away their time across from Harvard Yard in the area next to the T stop have apparently gone on to find a warmer place for the evening.

A van announcing free medical services rolls to a stop outside the Pit, and the teenagers slowly begin to reappear despite the inclement weather.

The van is a familiar presence in the Square--it has been visiting this stop and others in Cambridge and Boston regularly for the last 30 years, and now comes to the Square every evening.


Few of its clients have physical problems requiring immediate medical attention. Instead, they come to the van for information about drugs, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and some come simply to talk to the volunteers.

"We are only the first step in health care," says volunteer Karen L. Perella. "We just want the kids to be comfortable in what is a non-threatening situation. We see them every day, so we can give them some much-needed consistency in their lives."

A Place of Their Own

At 7:30 p.m., the moment the van's doors swing open, a teenage girl steps right up, climbing eagerly inside. Her face brightens as she greets volunteers she has not seen in weeks. Following close behind her is a boy dwarfed by his enormous pants. They sit down together and soon begin to laugh with the volunteers about jobs and mutual acquaintances.

Suddenly, the girl realizes something important is missing.

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