As Harvard students returned en masse to Cambridge earlier this month, Harvard student-run homeless shelters have made plans to operate at reduced bed capacity for overnight guests this fall and winter.
Many shelters in Cambridge had to reduce the number of guests they could house last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. For Y2Y and Harvard Square Homeless Shelter — shelters staffed by Harvard undergraduates — the past year brought acute volunteer shortages given that most students at the College were studying away from Cambridge.
To compensate for the dearth of student volunteers, Y2Y hired professional staff to help run the shelter over the past year, Y2Y Associate Director Mallory R. St. Brice explained.
Y2Y, which provides services to young adults, has also had to operate at a reduced capacity of 22 beds since the start of the pandemic.
“Historically, we have been able to host 27 guests overnight,” Y2Y Staff Director Elizabeth S. “Shea” Hausman ’22 said.
The shelter will return to a “fully student-led model” for the winter season from Oct. 15 to April 15, while maintaining the limited 22-bed capacity, according to St. Brice.
Hausman said the shelter will renege its policy instituted during the pandemic allowing guests to stay indefinitely, opting to return to a lottery system.
“We are now shifting back to something closer to the model that we had prior to the pandemic, which is the 30-day lottery,” Hausman said. “We randomly assign beds for 30-day stays, which can be a really, really critical period of stability for folks who are facing housing insecurity.”
By removing the 30-day lottery during the pandemic, the shelter reduced the number of people who could be exposed to a possible Covid-19 outbreak, according to St. Brice.
“If people stay there longer, there are other people we can’t let in,” St. Brice said. “We think [that] was the right decision to make at the time for those who were able to get in and really just needed a safe place to stay longer term in the context of the pandemic.”
For HSHS, the student-run shelter reopened for the first time this summer from July 1 to August 20 after being closed since March 2020. In its summer reopening, the shelter accommodated 15 guests.
The shelter will open again for its winter season from November 1 to April 15, though it is unclear how many beds it will make available.
“The number of bed spaces that we’re going to be offering is still a little bit in flux,” HSHS Administrative Director Alicia Liu ’22 said. “We’ll probably start with a lower number and work our way up if we feel like all of our health guidelines are being met, and we can provide a good environment for everyone.”
—Staff writer Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeromellara.