Sam Greenberg and Sarah Rosenkrantz: The Harvard classmates helping homeless youth

“We realized we have these resources, there is this need, and we’re very well suited to meet it.”

Boston Globe— December 19, 2015

Sam Greenberg and Sarah Rosenkrantz.

The homeless young adults of Harvard Square sleep in the shadows of privilege, surrounded by students their age yet often invisible. But Sarah Rosenkrantz and Sam Greenberg saw them.

In 2012, when the two were Harvard sophomores volunteering with the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, they grew frustrated by the number of homeless they had to turn away: 15 to 30 people a night, as well as a hundred students willing to volunteer each year. They decided to create an overnight shelter specifically for youth, who often don’t feel safe in crowded adult facilities.

“[There] was kind of this magical moment where we realized we have these resources, there is this need, and we’re very well suited to meet it,” Rosenkrantz says. Rosenkrantz and Greenberg brought together community members and advisers and raised $1.25 million. They pulled off something of a real estate coup, too, finding space for a 22-bed shelter in the center of Harvard Square. The facility, called Y2Y Harvard Square, is thought to be the first student-run shelter for young people in the country. Located in the basement of First Parish church, it is scheduled to open before Christmas if permitting issues can be resolved. Y2Y, for guests 18 to 24, will nearly triple the number of shelter beds available to the young and homeless in the Boston area during the coldest months of the year.

Rosenkrantz and Greenberg, who graduated in 2014, serve as full-time directors of Y2Y, raising money and guiding planning. Harvard’s Phillips Brooks House Association, a student-run public service organization, will staff the shelter with volunteers. Youth on Fire, a local group that provides counseling to homeless young people, will move to the shelter and operate a daytime drop-in center there.

The shelter, which received major donations from contractors, interior designers, and others, groups sleep pods — a modern version of bunk beds — along one wall. Each bed has a reading light, locker, and electrical outlet.

Since many homeless youth are transgender — up to 40 percent are LGBT, according to national figures — Y2Y is designed to be gender-inclusive. At intake, guests are not asked to disclose their gender, beds are not grouped by gender, and all showers and toilets are individual.

Greenberg, who had a close friend in high school who was homeless, says of Y2Y: “What unified us was this simple belief that people our own age should not be sleeping right outside our dorms.”