Cambridge Homeless Prepare for Winter

Though the fear of winter is ever-present for Cambridge’s homeless population, shelters, including the new student-run initiative Y2Y Harvard Square, aim to increase resources to mitigate the additional strains felt during winter months.

“It’s a dangerous world out here weather-wise. Brutally cold, you can lose fingers and toes,” said Alistair Finlay, who can often be found sitting at the intersection of Plympton Street and Massachusetts Avenue. “So you have to be very, very careful.”

According to the 2015 census, 464 homeless people live in Cambridge. With last winter’s record-breaking snowfall in mind, homeless advocates in Harvard Square are now fortifying against the cold.

Lily M. Velona ’18, one of the two advocacy directors at the shelter, said Y2Y is prepared for the months to come.

“We actually have— thanks to a lot of generous donations and forethought— well-stocked clothes, blankets, everything of that nature,” Velona said.


Though Y2Y normally provides a bed for 30 days to anyone who is selected in the lottery, one-night beds are also available.

Y2Y Harvard Square, a group established to help reduce homelessness of young adults, is located in the First Parish Church in Harvard Square.

“We put in time, effort, and money to catalyze the community and open before winter really started,” said Samuel G. Greenberg ’14, one of the founders of Y2Y.

Since space in any shelter is not always guaranteed, especially in the winter months, some of Harvard Square's homeless population try to find other places where warmth is accessible.

“I go to Panera or the [Smith Campus Center] or the Bookstore to try and stay warm, any place I can get in and stay centered and warm and stay away from the elements,” Finlay said. “If you don’t get in the shelter, you pretty much have to gear up and bite the bullet.”

Micah S. Gellman ’17, who recently wrote and directed a play inspired by the local homeless population, remains in contact with some of the people he interviewed for his production.

“The homeless couple which I have been in touch with recently...are raising money to get a tent, better sleeping bags, and better coats for the winter," he said.

Gellman added that other people choose to leave the area and head west outside the region toward warmer climates.

Those who do stay in Cambridge, though, must find ways to withstand the winter.

“I try and stay positive in my mind, body, and spirit,” Finlay said.“This year has been hard for me to get my head around the weather.”

Y2Y is the nation’s first student-run youth homeless shelter. This winter will be the first that Y2Y will weather since its opening in November.

—Staff writer Mahnoor B. Ali can be reached at

—Staff writer Kier W. Zimmerman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kierjwz


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