With 36 percent of youth in foster care experiencing homelessness before the age of 26 and 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ, young adults are a unique subset of America’s homeless population. No longer eligible to stay in family shelters after the age of 18, young 20-somethings are also potential targets of theft and assault on the streets or in shelters for adults.
The number of homeless young adults, between the ages of 18 and 24, is not small. A 2015 survey found that 13 percent of community college students are homeless, and more than 20 percent have difficulty paying their rent.
Late last year, a new space opened in Boston with an experimental model to serve this population. Y2Y is a temporary shelter for young adults that’s run by young adults (many of them volunteering Harvard University students). From the policies to the furniture, an advisory board of young adults who are or have been homeless also consulted on nearly every aspect of the shelter, which is in the basement of First Parish church in Harvard Square.
Co-founder Sarah Rosenkrantz, a Harvard grad, told NPR the model sends an important message: “Just telling our peers that we don’t believe they should be homeless, and we want to work together to fix this issue.”
With lime green paint and bunk beds, Y2Y’s design is more hostel than homeless shelter. Volunteers prepare dinner for guests every night, and everyone eats together. Potential guests enter a lottery to stay for one night or 30. There’s a maximum stay of 30 days, and a strict drug and alcohol ban. There’s also the age restriction: Y2Y’s only open to those 18 to 24 years old (and some 25-year-olds). The advisory board replaced the typical list of rules with a more positive and empowering “list of responsibilities.”
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With 22 beds, Y2Y can offer shelter for just a fraction of the hundreds of Boston’s homeless young adults. But those 22 beds are a large improvement. Prior to Y2Y, only 12 beds specific to this age group existed in the city.
While preparing to open the shelter last year, Rosenkrantz’s co-founder, Sam Greenberg, told the Boston Business Journal, “Young people who are homeless are more recent to being homeless.” He noted that connecting to young people when they are new to the streets “can be a critical intervention point.”
According to the Journal, individual donors, the Cambridge Housing Authority and more are helping support Y2Y financially.
Y2Y provides supportive services as well, including student case managers, and Rosenkrantz says she plans to offer workshops to clients in subjects like financial literacy and public speaking.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.