GDS Community Partner Spotlight: Y2Y

Interview with Sam Greenberg & Ana Carell
By Michaela Johnston

Tell me a little bit about how Y2Y got its start?

Sam: Y2Y opened in December of 2015. We started in response to a community need. When a group of us were doing research in this area we were volunteering at the Harvard Square homeless shelter, which is a student run shelter for adults in Harvard Square. We started learning about the issue of homelessness and learned that in Greater Boston there were only 12 youth specific beds to serve the entire Boston population, which is a particular issue because young people don’t feel safe in adult shelters. We know that young people are disproportionately coming out of the foster care system. Up to 40 percent of homeless youth nationally identify as LGBTQ. So, there’s some really unique needs of the population.

As we were doing research and talking to people about how we could help the issue, one thing we heard a lot was that the Harvard Square homeless shelter was one of the only adult shelters in Greater Boston where young people felt safe going. It really pointed us to a student run model to serve homeless youth. We’re lucky enough to benefit from an array of partnerships and people from all different sectors and parts of Greater Boston that have stepped in and really helped us to get things started. We were also lucky to work with young people who were experiencing homelessness at that time to really drive forward a lot of our process as well. We spent a lot of time raising money and finding a space. We were lucky to find a partner at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church and then renovated and opened in Decembe29234307503_a87801154b_or of 2015.

What can BU volunteers expect to be doing while on Global Days of Service?

Ana: We have a bunch of different volunteer shifts. We’re open from 7 pm to 8 am so we divide our volunteers into 4 shifts. Dinner, evenings, overnight volunteers and then breakfast volunteers. If you’re on a dinner shift you’ll be making dinner, serving dinner and interacting with the guests. Evening includes cleaning the kitchen. It’s a much more laid back shift. Helping with laundry and cleaning, speaking with guests and hopefully hanging out with them in the space. Overnight shifts, you sleep for 5 or 6 hours and up for a 2 or 3 hour shift. Same thing there, you’re monitoring the space, talking to guests, helping people with laundry and other small tasks that might need to be done. For breakfast, you’d be making breakfast and serving to guests and helping clean up in the morning.

Sam: We also organize [at least] monthly deep cleans of the shelter so that the shelter can really fulfill its hygiene and cleanliness obligations. We’ll often organize volunteers into a team to sort of clean the shelter and provide a holistic clean.

How can people get involved after GDS?

Ana: Students from any school can be weekly volunteers. At the beginning of every semester we have an application process, we usually have a lot of applicants and we’re usually able to accept the vast majority of them and fit people in as much as possible. We try to create a low barrier for people wanting to volunteer.

Sam: Also for people who can’t commit to a weekly shift or don’t get a shift, the other thing that volunteers can do is sign up for our substitute list.

What are some of the ways Y2Y hopes to leave an impact in Boston?

Sam: Our model is three parts and we’re always tweaking things and thinking about how can continue to improve what we do. First, we provide sanctuaries, 27 beds, 22 of which are available on a one month basis, 5 of which are a nightly basis. And we also provide dinner, breakfast, showers, toiletries, clothing and the whole range of basic services.

The second part of our program is pathways out of homelessness. We work to facilitate pathways out of homelessness by having case managers who are a little bit more of resource navigators that provide basic referral access and basic services to guests. We also have Harvard Law School students who provide legal aid several times per week. We have medical and mental health care help onsite as well as a range of additional programs.

And finally, we work on issues of advocacy and leadership development. We work to make sure both the students that volunteer with us and also guests who stay with us have the opportunity to serve as leaders, be involved in public speaking and the leadership of the shelter.

Any last thoughts about Y2Y?

Sam: For us, we are almost entirely run by volunteers. Anybody who volunteers with us from BU will be part of over 200 students who volunteer with us annually to make sure we can keep our shelter up and running. It’s not just help, it’s actually critical operation that anyone who comes to volunteer is providing. I think that’s a really wonderful thing, both wonderful for us and a great opportunity for someone who is a prospective volunteer.

 Ana: I would agree with that. Everyone from out student staff are volunteers and I think that creates a really great environment for the shelter because everyone really wants to be there. I think that it’s a great place to volunteer because it has a really great atmosphere.


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