UPDATED: April 17, 2018 at 2:35 a.m.
Harvard students collaborated with community organizations, called their legislators, and discussed increasing rates of homelessness in Cambridge and Boston as part of the Phillip Brooks House Association’s second annual Housing Awareness Week.
The week’s housing awareness events were hosted by PBHA in conjunction with Harvard Habitat for Humanity, Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, and Y2Y, a student run overnight homeless shelter for young adults aged 18 to 24.
“The main goal is to raise awareness of the situation of current housing and issues of homelessness,” said Cora Neudeck ’19, PBHA’s Advocacy, Health, and Housing Programming Group Officer, who helped organize the initiative.
Jorge Ledesma ’19, a co-organizer of the week’s events, said he agreed.
“I think when we are really focused on our school, which we should be, sometimes we forget that there are a lot of problems going on right in our backyard,” he said.
Neudeck also said the organizers hoped the influence of Housing Awareness Week would extend beyond merely educating students on housing issues.
“We wanted to incorporate elements of action as well, so that way people can get involved,” she said.
Housing Awareness Week kicked off with a Poverty Teach-In on Saturday, during which students met with community groups to discuss poverty-related issues.
On Wednesday, students gathered in the PBHA parlor room for a conversation with Julie B. Wilson, a lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Phillip Martin, a Senior Investigative Reporter at radio station WGBH, and Allison E. Torsiglieri ’16, a case manager for HomeStart, an organization that works to combat homelessness in the Greater Boston area.
The discussion focused on the current state of homelessness in Cambridge and Boston. Drawing upon facts, data and personal experiences working with the homeless, the panelists spoke about the complexity of homelessness in the area and also the search for solutions.
It will require “the cooperation of a lot of people from different backgrounds in order to resolve the issue,” said Sina Sadeghzadeh ’21, an advocacy director at Habitat for Humanity and panel attendee.
The panelists also emphasized the importance of humanizing the homeless.
“Even if you can’t find them a home, just listening to their story is important,” Wilson said.
Martin said he felt hopeful that students could mobilize to combat homelessness the same way that student advocates have mobilized for gun control in recent weeks.
“The very things that we think could only happen in the abstract could happen in reality with this level of commitment,” Martin said.
“There are people and professionals out in the community who want to come out and talk to students,” Torsiglieri said. “That is a really great way for students to know even what other careers are available to them that involve working on these issues.”
On Thursday, students congregated in Sever Hall to phone bank for legislative action on homelessness. Callers urged their representatives to support several bills in the Massachusetts Legislature supporting the homeless that include provisions like expanding access to ID services, increasing funding for housing and wraparound services for unaccompanied youth, and publicly recognizing unlawful discrimination of youth experiencing homelessness.
“We have so much space here and at the same time, it’s incredibly, incredibly difficult for people to look for housing,” said Boris Davidov ’19, who participated in the phone bank. “That’s always ignited a flame in me, to wonder why we have these big urban centers, and there are still so many people who can’t find a single room to live in.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 17, 2018
A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Y2Y is a student-run overnight homeless shelter for minors. In fact, Y2Y is a shelter for young adults aged 18 to 24.—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.
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