Youth to Youth: Y2Y Harvard Square Shelter to Open this Winter
The Y2Y shelter in Harvard Square has started construction and is on track for a November opening.
The shelter, headed by Co-Executive Directors Sam Greenberg and Sarah Rosenkrantz, will serve homeless youth between the ages of 18 and 24. Employing a unique “youth-to-youth” model, the shelter will have 22 beds, assigned by lottery, and will offer 30-night long stays from about November to May. Additionally, a major focus will be on providing completely optional support services including legal counsel, housing and job search assistance and medical care.
Rosenkrantz says the youth-to-youth model is important for a number of reasons: “A lot of times, there’s distrust toward adult authority figures. When you have a young person in that role, it just creates a different dynamic. It automatically lowers the barriers of trust.” Additionally, the shelter will be completely run by volunteers: “Students are here because they want to be here, not because they’re being paid. That model is really special.”
Though research on youth homelessness is sparse, the Y2Y has divided the reasons youth are homeless into three major categories. First, for some, home isn’t safe: physical, emotional or sexual abuse victims may decide that being homeless is safer than staying in a dangerous home environment. Second, for around 25% of homeless youth, home doesn’t exist: 36 percent of youth who age out of the foster care system, for example, will experience homelessness before the age of 26. Finally, for others, home isn’t supportive: 40 percent of homeless youth nationwide identify as LGBTQ, and by far the largest reason LGBTQ youth face homelessness is family rejection.
One of the major focuses of the shelter will be creating an “affirming space,” especially for youth who identify as LGBTQ. “In general, we know that young people who identify as LGBTQ are disproportionately at risk for trauma, abuse, and generally feel less safe staying in shelters,” states Greenberg. “I think certainly [as a society] we can do a lot more for our LGBTQ-identified peers.”
The shelter will focus especially on creating a safe space for those who identify as transgender. “A traditional shelter setup doesn’t work” to support transgender youth, says Greenberg. In most shelters, for instance, showers and sleeping areas are divided by sex. However, this can create an uncomfortable—and potentially dangerous—environment for transgender youth.
In order to combat this issue, the Y2Y will have completely private single-stall showers and bathrooms and “alcove” beds. These will have a translucent shutter and be surrounded by punched out wood, providing privacy while still allowing staff supervision, a personal locker and lock, a reading light and an outlet. “The idea is to create a feeling of privacy,” explains Greenberg. “The beds will not feel like a traditional barrack-style bunk bed, and we can be entirely gender-inclusive and gender-neutral.”
“[These features] will allow us, from an infrastructural perspective, to approach all young people, and especially those who identify as LGBTQ, in a welcoming, thoughtful, and affirming way,” concludes Greenberg.
But it will take more than just a thoughtful design to create a welcoming space—something Rosenkrantz and Greenberg have thoroughly considered. For example, the staff will be trained in how to use preferred gender pronouns, and the shelter’s intake forms will have a blank space, instead of a multiple-choice list, for gender.
“It comes down to making sure our staff is very well trained and diverse, representing the population that we’ll be serving,” says Rosenkrantz.
Read more about the opening of Y2Y Harvard Square below at Spare Change News.