Checking In With Y2Y: A Year in Review

Last December, a group of Harvard students, professors, and alumni joined forces to launch the nation’s first student-run youth homeless shelter. But Y2Y had a rocky beginning.
By Hillary A. McLauchlin and Julia M. Shea

Last December, a group of Harvard students, professors, and alumni joined forces to launch the nation’s first student-run youth homeless shelter. But Y2Y had a rocky beginning.

“The reality is that it did not all come together on day one or even day 100,” says Sam G. Greenberg ’14, one of Y2Y’s co-founders. Nearly a year later, though, staffers say Y2Y is running smoothly—partly due to its partnerships with local organizations. The shelter, which operates during the academic year, is even planning to pilot a summer program.

As an undergraduate, Allison E. Torsiglieri ’16 often volunteered at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, another student-run shelter located close to Y2Y. After graduation, she joined Y2Y for a yearlong stint as a Program Fellow. Torsiglieri says her time at both groups has given her a unique perspective on their relationship: Y2Y and HSHS often work together, she says, teaming up to share “best practices” as well as smaller things like “milk.” But Torsiglieri says she thinks Y2Y and HSHS could be better partners.

“There’s still so much room to grow and become even closer in the ways in which our services are parallel,” Torsiglieri says.

In addition to HSHS, Y2Y also works with Bridge Over Troubled Waters, an organization that offers a wide variety of programming for the same 14- to 24-year-old homeless population Y2Y serves. Greenberg says collaborating with groups like these has increased Y2Y’s “impact” on the Cambridge area.

Other partnerships lie closer to home. Y2Y frequently consults with the Guest Leadership Council, a group of former and current Y2Y guests that meets weekly to discuss how to improve the shelter. Greenberg says Y2Y staffers have a different name for the body: the “Jedi” council.

But Y2Y is always looking for more groups to partner with, Greenberg says. The shelter plans to debut financial literacy workshops designed by Harvard Business School Students. Y2Y also hopes to work with the Harvard Square Business Association’s Hospitality Committee to bring local chefs to the shelter to hold workshops that will aim to prepare guests for the workforce. Greenberg says Y2Y staffers are also considering implementing digital literacy and computer workshops.

Y2Y’s latest initiative involves keeping its doors open year-round. Rates of risky behaviors—like substance abuse—often spike among the homeless over the summer, Torsiglieri says. She adds there is pressing demand for Y2Y to serve its guests every month of the year. Torsiglieri remembers sobering conversations with past guests who asked, “You’re going to be closed for the next six months? Where are we supposed to go?”

“We can’t pretend that youth aren’t vulnerable in the summer,” Torsiglieri says.

Throughout summer 2016, local organization Youth On Fire commandeered the shelter during the day, offering physical and mental health services to homeless youth in need. But Y2Y’s beds remained empty overnight.

This summer will be different, Greenberg says. Under Y2Y’s new program, the shelter will remain open, and guests will be eligible for either single-night, 30-day, or six-week stays. The six-week option is new to the shelter, Greenberg says, and reflects one of Y2Y staffers’ main goals: strengthening the relationships between staff and guests. Y2Y plans to capitalize on the comparative flexibility of students’ summer schedules to hire between seven and ten full-time staffers.

Torsiglieri emphasizes that many of Y2Y’s proposed programs are still in the planning stages. “These are all hypotheses,” she says.

Not too long ago, Y2Y was a hypothesis, too.

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