During these tumultuous economic times, many Americans are struggling to stay afloat. And while there are no magic solutions in sight, students across the country are stepping up to do what they can to mitigate the effects of poverty and homelessness. Specifically, I would like to mention students from three separate parts of the country who are taking on the difficult task of providing shelter for currently unhoused individuals.
For the past 28 years, students from Harvard University have operated a student-run homeless shelter. The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter is a seasonal shelter that provides protection from the harsh New England winter. While these passionate student volunteers could be studying and engaging in typical college activities, they instead spend their nights creating a unique, refreshing atmosphere for shelter guests. The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter has earned fantastic rapport among guests from the Cambridge and Boston Area. On Tuesday, November 15, 2011, they will once again welcome unhoused guests into their shelter.
The success of the Harvard shelter has inspired students from other universities to create shelters in their communities. In the Philadelphia region, students from Villanova and other nearby universities have spent the past few months working on a student-run shelter of their own. Led by Villanova history professor Stephanie Sena, this group of volunteers has worked tirelessly to emulate the Harvard model and tailor it to fit in with the Philadelphia community. After months of hard work, they saw their efforts come to fruition. On November 1, 2011, the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia became the second student-run shelter to open its doors.
Across the country, students from Stanford University are also looking to provide shelter for unhoused individuals. These students, mainly from a campus group called Night Outreach, are collaborating with InnVision to create an additional shelter in Palo Alto. Currently, InnVision operates Hotel de Zink, the only Palo Alto homeless shelter. The Stanford students and InnVision plan to open Hotel de Zink: Women’s Shelter, on January 15, 2012. The shelter will be one of the only women’s shelters in the region.
On the other side of the Bay Area, some of us from Suitcase are in the research and planning stages of starting up our own shelter. While we face a myriad of obstacles, we are inspired by the students from these three other universities who have proved that it can be done. We have been in contact with all three groups, and we hope that we can increase collaboration in the near future. As students who have witnessed the heartbreaking effects of homelessness, we all share the same compassion and empathy toward those who are unhoused. Through our experiences in our respective communities, we feel that it is our generation that has the willpower and passion to ultimately put an end to homelessness, and to see the day when student-run clinics and shelters are no longer necessary.