Sam Greenberg

Y2Y Harvard Square Calls on Governor Baker to restore funding for Youth on Fire

The leaders of Y2Y Harvard Square, the nation’s first student-run homeless shelter for young adults ages 18-24, called on Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders to restore the $300,000 of annual state funding for Youth on Fire (YOF), a daytime drop in center for homeless youth, that it recently cut. Youth on Fire will close on November 1st, 2017 without this funding.

A program of the AIDS Action Committee, Youth on Fire is one of very few programs that provide daytime services and housing assistance for homeless and street involved youth in the Commonwealth. In addition, Youth on Fire shares its space with Y2Y, providing crucial daytime services and case management to complement Y2Y’s overnight shelter.

According to state data, LGBTQ homeless youth – a majority of the young people served by Youth on Fire – are seven times as likely as their classmates to report heroin use, three times as likely to experience sexual contact against their will, and four times as likely to feel threatened, or be injured at school. Young adults experiencing homelessness face higher likelihoods of assault, trauma, mental illness, and substance use than their housed peers. Providing safe and welcoming interventions like those provided by YoF and Y2Y have the potential to prevent young adults from falling into long term cycles of homelessness.

Cuts Remove 24-Hour Services

“We first began exploring the idea of opening Y2Y after conversations with Youth on Fire, where we learned that their young adult clients often had no safe options for shelter when YoF closed their doors each night at 6 PM,” said Sarah Rosenkrantz, Y2Y Co-Founder. “As we began doing research, we learned that young adults often feel unsafe in traditional adult shelters, resorting to the streets, couch surfing, or exchanging sex for a place to sleep instead.”

Youth on Fire moved in to share Y2Y’s newly renovated space at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Cambridge shortly after Y2Y opened its doors in December, 2015, In addition to sharing the rent paid to the First Parish Church, this partnership has allowed Y2Y and Youth on Fire to provide safe shelter and pathways out of homelessness to young adults virtually around the clock. Thanks to this partnership, Y2Y and Youth on Fire together provide 27 beds, nap spaces, meals, gender-neutral showers and bathrooms, laundry, toiletries, medical and mental health care, case management, and free testing and counseling for HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

“These cuts will strip away much of the momentum that we have built over the last several years,” said Sam Greenberg, Y2Y’s other Co-Founder. “If Youth on Fire is forced to close, we will lose the ability to provide wrap-around services to young adults. Not only that, but we currently split our rent with Youth on Fire, and as such a young program, this will pose significant challenges to our operating budget. It seems impossible that the state, for whom this would be a drop in the bucket, is unable to come up with enough funding to sustain this life-saving program.”

Broad Impact of Cuts

The broader implication of these cuts are troubling to Y2Y, and its umbrella organization, the Phillips Brooks House Association. “Cutting a crucial program like Youth on Fire is the worst kind of statement we can make right now,” said Maria Dominguez Gray, the Class of 1955 Executive Director of the Phillips Brooks House Association. “At a time where the dignity of LGBTQ and other marginalized youth in Massachusetts and across the country are being questioned, we should be telling these young people that they matter,” she continued. “Hopefully the Commonwealth will find the resources to sustain this critical work.”

About Y2Y Harvard Square

Y2Y Harvard Square (Y2Y), is the nation’s first student-run homeless shelter for young adults ages 18-24. Y2Y employs a youth-to-youth model to provide a safe and affirming environment for young adults experiencing homelessness. Y2Y guests have opportunities to collaborate with service providers, other young adults experiencing homelessness, and student volunteers to create sustainable pathways out of homelessness and develop skills for long-term success. Y2Y provides opportunities for both guests and volunteers to become the next generation’s leading advocates for young adult-driven solutions to homelessness.

About the Phillips Brooks House Association

The Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) is a student-run, community-based, nonprofit public service organization affiliated with Harvard College. For more than a century, PBHA has offered vital experience to generations of leaders in service while strengthening partnerships between college students and local communities. Today, 1,500 volunteers participate in more than 80 programs serving 10,000 low-income people in Greater Boston. PBHA brings the creativity and enthusiasm of students together with the guidance of professional staff and the knowledge of community members to offer inspired and effective year-round programming.

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