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The University Lutheran Homeless Shelter (UniLu) filled all 24 of its beds last night, its opening night for this winter.
Harvard students, who staff the center, spent weeks preparing for this successful opening. The center opens in November, and closes again as weather warms in April.
“We had to train supervisors and volunteers cleaned the shelter for three days,” said Volunteer Director Michelle Kuo ’03.
“The first day is always a lot of busy work,” said another UniLu director, Ariadne G. Lie ’02. “We have to get the beds sorted out—iron out the wrinkles, and assign lockers.”
The shelter—which was founded in 1982—operates out of the basement of the Lutheran church at 66 Winthrop Street. Currently about 140 volunteers work dinner, evening, overnight or breakfast shifts, Kuo said.
The shelter provides everyone with a warm dinner—last night hamburgers, beans and pasta—collected primarily from Dunster, Quincy, Adams and Mather houses.
The adults only shelter contains beds for 24 people, each of whom can stay at the shelter for up to two weeks. At that point they are asked to take a week of leave, which Kuo said is intended to encourage self-sufficiency and to allow others access to the beds.
The facility includes washing machines, showers, linens, towels and clean beds. Toiletries, donated clothing, socks and underwear are also provided on a limited basis.
“[UniLu] is considered the Holiday Inn of shelters,” said Kuo. “We are smaller, safer and a dry [non-alcoholic] shelter. It is the ideal atmosphere.”
James K., who was staying at the shelter last night, said it was the best shelter he had come across. “This is my third year here at the shelter,” he said. “It’s a good group of people. They care about us and try to get us help.”
In addition to Harvard volunteers, a social worker comes to the shelter at least once a week. Moreover, later this month, Harvard Medical students Lewis L. Shi and Sachin H. Jain ’02 will open a new health clinic to provide free health care for homeless people who lack insurance.
Volunteers say that the shelter provides exposure to experiences not usually found at Harvard. “You become really close to some of the guests. Everyone has an interesting story to tell,” Kuo said.
UniLu is particularly important this year, Kuo said, as rising Cambridge housing prices have caused an increase in homelessness.
For those interested in volunteering, UniLu is always in need of help, especially over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
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