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Editorials

Smith Center Sleeping Incidents Indicate Greater Problems

Smith Center Homelessness
The Smith Campus Center has policies that prohibit individuals from sleeping in its common spaces.

Recent incidents of people falling asleep in the Smith Campus Center have prompted action from security staff and campus police officers, who have responded by waking individuals in certain cases. The new campus space has clearly become a popular location for brief rests, but while tired students also have dorm rooms to retire to, many less fortunate residents have found the building a respite from the brutal Cambridge winter. We call on Harvard to ensure it treats members of our community resting in the Smith Campus Center with utmost respect, including those experiencing homelessness.

Harvard University Police Department has stated they have enforced the building’s no-sleeping policy humanely and without prejudice. We hope they continue to do so in future incidents. We also support HUPD’s greater efforts to maintain order and safety on our campus, but hope it and the University as a whole is always cognizant of treating all individuals with respect.

Moreover, the University and the staff at the Smith Campus Center should be equitable in their enforcement of the building’s no-sleeping policy, making sure not to target individuals experiencing homelessness to a greater degree than students, who also have been known to use the building as a convenient spot for a nap. A policy meant to limit potential liabilities and prevent safety issues is understandable, but we cannot support it if it is found that it is being enforced unequally on the basis of University affiliation.

While sleeping in the Smith Campus Center is not exclusive to homeless individuals, these incidents specifically call attention to the pervasive problem of homelessness in our community. According to the Cambridge Department of Municipal Services Program, the number of unsheltered and emergency-sheltered individuals rose between 2017 and 2018. Harvard Square has consistently been at the heart of that growing population. To their credit, Harvard students have certainly worked hard to support local homeless individuals, and we laud their efforts. In particular, the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and Y2Y demonstrate a meaningful awareness of and commitment to that community within the student body. But these students should not be acting alone. Rather than having much of the burden fall on student-run groups, we call on the University to do more to support and fund efforts to assist and protect the Harvard Square homeless population.

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As we have opined previously, the message Harvard sends by keeping the Smith Campus Center open to the community is certainly a positive one. However, it only stands so if the University treats all its visitors with equal dignity and respect. That begins with the way individuals experiencing homelessness are treated. These individuals seek refuge in our spaces not out of preference, but because many often have few other places to go.

Rising rates of homelessness are a major issue facing our community. As homeless individuals find refuge in Harvard spaces, the University should not only wake them up with compassion, but also think critically about how it can contribute to the needs of the homeless in our community more broadly, especially given its outsize presence and impact within the greater Cambridge community. We hope these incidents spark a greater sense of action and urgency within the University to take important, equitable steps to help address them as soon as possible.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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