A Stylish Safe Haven

The Improper Bostonian– January 15, 2016

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Opened in December in the basement of Cambridge’s First Parish Church, Y2Y Harvard Square has not only nearly tripled the number of beds in the Boston area designated for homeless young people, but raised the bar on shelter design, offering a vibe more akin to that of a trendy capsule hotel. It’s the brainchild of codirectors Sarah Rosenkrantz and Sam Greenberg, 2014 Harvard grads who met while volunteering and imagined a first-in-the-nation, entirely youth-staffed shelter for young people. “There’s a lot of research to suggest that young people working with young people is a really effective way to build trust,” Greenberg says. And with trust in place, young guests may be more likely to take advantage of Y2Y resources that can help them transition out of street life, from legal aid from Harvard Law students to HIV testing via Youth on Fire, an AIDS Action Committee program that shares the space.

To make Y2Y a reality, Greenberg and Rosenkrantz raised $1.25 million and found support from partners like Studio G Architects, a Jamaica Plain firm with a mission of “bringing high-quality design to those who need it most,” says founder Gail Sullivan. We took a closer look at the new digs.

Warm Welcome: Studio G wanted to avoid the “cold, institutional” look of many shelters, says project architect Rashmi Ramaswamy. Hence the bright color scheme and sleek lounge furnishings—like Brody chairs—donated by Chicago nonprofit Designs for Dignity. “It’s an energizing space that feels welcoming to young people,” Rosenkrantz says.

Light and Bright: Studio G employed “trauma-informed design,” says Sullivan, since young shelter guests have often faced abuse or exploitation. Among the thoughtful choices: LED lighting, which more closely approximates mood-enhancing daylight, heavy use of glass to provide a sense of openness and transparency, and an accent wall of wood siding that brings elements of the outdoors in.

Comfy Quarters: Control over one’s environment is crucial to trauma-informed design, so the shelter boasts 22 semi-private sleeping pods, each with its own built-in reading light, locker and charging outlet.

Tile with Style: Up to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, so bunks aren’t grouped by gender, and mosaic-adorned bathrooms are individualized to create an inclusive environment for trans youth.