First Student-Run Homeless Shelter for Young Adults to Open in Harvard Square

Sen. Elizabeth Warren stopped by Friday's 'opening celebration.'

Warren meets with Goldberg and Rosenkrantz. Photo by Kyle Clauss

Warren meets with Goldberg and Rosenkrantz. Photo by Kyle Clauss

When Jamila Bradley first arrived in Boston from her native Florida, it was the city’s countless brick buildings she noticed first—or, more accurately, their permanence. Just over two years ago, she found herself at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, “realizing that I had less family than I expected, fresh from a violent assault, and new to the world of youth homelessness.”

To Bradley, a youth advocacy coordinator for Y2Y Harvard Square, the nation’s first student-run, overnight homeless shelter for young adults, bricks symbolized the stability that she and many other homeless youth so desperately seek.

Community leaders and elected officials, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, joined Bradley in Harvard Square Friday afternoon to celebrate the shelter’s opening next month, in the Unitarian Universalist church’s basement.

“Generally, when I speak to grantees, legislators, or even care providers, I speak with a candor and transparency that I feel they are entitled to, despite the fact that it betrays my anger,” Bradley told a congregation of more than 500 people inside the First Parish. “But today isn’t like that, and it’s refreshing.”

Y2Y Harvard Square, founded by Harvard graduates Sam Greenberg and Sarah Rosenkrantz and affiliated with Harvard’s Phillips Brooks House Association, worked alongside members of the First Parish Church and AIDS Action Committee to renovate the basement into a shelter composed of 22 gender-inclusive alcove beds intended for young adults between the ages 18-24.

“They saw the problem. They had a vision for how to fix it, and that’s what’s going on downstairs,” Warren said. “And I’ve got to tell you—it’s beautiful.”

The renovation project, designed by Studio G of Jamaica Plain, was made possible by donations from construction firms Skanska USA and Essex Newbury. In a release, Y2Y Harvard Square said it believes the project will serve as a model for future youth safe-havens. Warren agreed.

“The key is people saying, ‘I’m not going to be able to fix it all. I may not be able to take on all 39,000 homeless youth,'” Warren said. “But what we can do is we can make a start, right here in Cambridge. And by making a start, we make a real difference, person-to-person.”