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The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter announced it was closing for the rest of the season on Sunday morning, stopping daily lotteries for beds and halting in-person services amid challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Staffed by members of Harvard’s Phillip Brooks House Association, the shelter houses 24 people each night and is typically run entirely by students and volunteers. Its season typically runs from Nov. 1 to April 15. It is located in the basement of the University Lutheran Church and offers meals, toiletries, laundry, and other services to its guests.
“We are working with the University Lutheran Church to establish times that guests may retrieve bags stored at HSHS until April 15th,” a statement posted to the HSHS website reads.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has posed a host of challenges for the shelter. In recent weeks, HSHS took a number of safety precautions such as implementing a COVID-19 “screening protocol” for guests and staff and hiring a professional cleaning service to disinfect all surfaces in the shelter, according to an emailed statement provided by HSHS administrative directors Ethan M. Kahn ’20 and Matthew M. Jelen ’21.
The shelter also suspended its volunteer program, outsourcing its cooking and laundry and retaining only a “small group of student staff members” to run nightly shifts after most Harvard undergraduates were required to move off campus less than two weeks ago, according to Kahn and Jelen.
“HSHS relies on a unique collaboration between Harvard students, staff at PBHA, our guests, the congregation at the University Lutheran Church, and many other public and community stakeholders,” Kahn and Jelen wrote. “The circumstances of this year made it necessary for the shelter to close before the scheduled end of our season.”
The notice that the shelter would close came after HSHS launched an emergency fund to support costs related to COVID-19. PBHA executive director Maria J. Dominguez Gray indicated several days ago that her organization was working hard to keep the shelter open. The cost of operations did not play “a major factor” in HSHS's decision to close early for the season, according to the shelter.
Kahn and Jelen wrote that they plan to work with the University and Cambridge to address housing and shelter needs in the city.
“It is a moment of critical need for those most vulnerable in our community, and we believe that Harvard is in a unique position to mobilize its resources in support of the broader needs of Cambridge,” they wrote. “We plan to work with the University and the City of Cambridge to find solutions for some of these pressing needs, including beds and shelter for those experiencing homelessness.”
Y2Y Harvard Square, a shelter for young adults also staffed by PBHA in the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, remained operational as of Tuesday night.
This past week, Harvard students circulated a petition calling for the University to offer its dorms to help house Cambridge’s homeless population. As of Tuesday night, the petition had accumulated over 1000 signatures from Harvard affiliates, Cambridge residents, and others.
—Staff writer Joshua C. Fang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jshuaf.
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