Last Friday Rosemary, Debbie and I visited the Y2Y Shelter at Harvard Square - the only student run shelter in the country for young adults between 18-24 experiencing homelessness. In Boston that about 150 a night. It’s a cohort with special needs, unlikely to feel safe in an adult shelter. Y2Y has 30 beds, serves dinner and breakfast, and offers counseling to connect young people to social services. Boston has only one other facility for young adults, with 12 beds.
Founders Sam Goldstein, age 24 and Sarah Rosencranz, 25 gave us a tour while half a dozen Harvard students scrubbed bathrooms, cleared breakfast tables, and loaded a mountain of dirty laundry – bed sheets and towels - into 3 of the 4 working machines. Some volunteer as much as 20 hours a week on top of a full course schedule.
About 36% of the guests have previously been in the foster system. 32% have spent a night in jail. Approximately 30% are LGTBQ who left home once they came out to their parents which today happens at a younger age than before. “Our goal is to help them break the cycle so they don’t become chronically, permanently homeless” says Sarah who explains that 89% of their guests say that they have a concrete plan out of homelessness after their stay at Y2Y. See https://tinyurl.com/zcrx3yq
From there we went to record a podcast with chef Ming Tsai and Dr. Debbie Frank from the Grow Clinic at the Boston Medical Center. Dr Frank’s patients are mostly under two years of age. She says “public policy is written on the bodies of the babies I see … Some come in with rickets, from lack of vitamin D, which causes a bending and bowing of their legs.” But not everything lends itself to an “eyeball diagnosis” Dr Frank tells us. She described an 8 month old whose mother didn’t understand why he was failing to thrive. She’s been feeding him a cornmeal and sugar water mush and he wasn’t complaining but was getting sicker. “They were saving on food costs because they anticipated their landlord evicting them soon – not for failure to pay rent, but because of the need to make space for one of the landlord’s family members.”
Our morning and afternoon conversations had a common thread: the young – from college students to infants and toddlers - are vulnerable in unique ways most don’t appreciate, and fail to adequately serve. That’s why children have been our focus at Share Our Strength and why we need to be especially vigilant in the days ahead as those we serve could be impacted by potential changes to Medicaid, SNAP, and other policy shifts.
(Also, because national security advisors are in the news this week, it’s worth noting that former President Bill Clinton’s national security advisor Anthony Lake who is now the Executive Director of UNICEF, wrote an op-ed called Dark Days For Children about the tremendous suffering on the global scale that made 2016 “one of the worst years for children since World War II.” He underscores the need “to harness innovation to expand our capacity to reach children who are cut off from assistance in besieged areas or communities” https://tinyurl.com/gmknmb5 )