Building a safe haven for at risk youth in Cambridge

Skanska– November 23, 2015

Skanska’s Boston team is demonstrating what #BuildingWhatMatters means through their efforts to build a new homeless facility for Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run overnight shelter in Cambridge, Mass. Our team donated their time and skills to build the new center, which is providing a safe haven for young adults going through tough times. In this latest installation of our Building What Matters series, we take a closer look at how Y2Y Harvard Square is impacting their Cambridge community.

Consider the following statistics: in the whole Boston area, there are only 12 beds set aside for homeless young adults under 24. Worse still, a quarter of homeless youth in Massachusetts have aged out of the foster system, and many struggle with mental health issues. Tired of having to turn away teens from the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter where she volunteered, 2014 Harvard graduate Sarah Rosenkrantz and her classmate Sam Greenberg decided to take action by starting a new, student-run homeless shelter aimed at youth in need, which they named Y2Y Harvard Square. But first they needed to figure out how to build it, and then bring it to reality. That’s where Skanska came in.

Our Boston office heard about the Y2Y initiative from the community and realized they had the tools and expertise to help. A team led by Senior Project Manager Jim Craft donated its time to work with the Y2Y directors and the designers to provide an estimate, a target budget, spearhead a design-assist process, and ask Skanska’s trade contractor partners to pitch in for labor and material donations. In all, the stakeholders donated $350,000 worth of labor and materials to the project.

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A Skanska team member signs her name to the shelter’s dry wall next to the motto: “Hope is here” at the project’s groundbreaking event.

The shelter opened just a few weeks ago and now provides 22 beds to homeless young adults between 18 and 24 years old. The shelter also includes a daytime “drop-in” center, where guidance and training services for the betterment of homeless and disadvantaged Cambridge youth. “They can’t go to adult shelters because they get eaten alive there,” City Councilor Marc McGovern told The Boston Globe. “These kids really don’t have a place, even in Cambridge, where they can go and feel safe.” Y2Y Harvard Square will be that place.

The construction encompassed renovating a 4,300-square-foot space in the basement of the First Parish Church in Cambridge. The space includes a medical office, management office, lounge area and function room. The renovation also included: installing new sprinklers, new lighting, and new kitchen equipment, repairing the HVAC system, and an upgrading the fire alarm system. The shelter is projected to serve 130 youth in the first year alone and will offer day-time services as well as an overnight shelter. These services will provide young people with immediate sanctuary, pathways out of homelessness, and opportunities for advocacy and leadership development.  “Young people who are homeless are more recent to being homeless. They’re in crisis,” Y2Y’s Greenberg told the Boston Business Journal.  As such, Greenberg added, providing newly homeless youth these services “can be a critical intervention point.”

151106.008 The Skanska team joined Senator Elizabeth Warren at Y2Y’s opening celebration.

One of the project’s unique building challenges was incorporating donations from the community, said Skanska Project Manager Carolyn Jamison who was a part of the Y2Y team. “Individuals and companies have been so lovely and offered to provide numerous donated items but unless they fit seamlessly into the design, precious time and money can be expended in the effort to incorporate these items.  Finding that balance between making the required adjustments to repurpose a donated item versus sticking with the original plan can be difficult.  It was a tight schedule and it was so important that we opened by November. We needed the shelter to be running before winter comes!”

Design challenges aside, Jamison said she is inspired to work on Y2Y because of her own experience seeing homelessness in the city. “You can’t spend that much time in Cambridge without being impacted by the homeless situation,” she said. “We like to build things that matter, and it’s always great when you get an opportunity to combine construction with something more altruistic and serves a greater purpose.”