Shelter from the storm

12/11/2015 5:00 PM CET

In Boston, MA, Y2Y Harvard Square is a soon-to-be opened student-run overnight shelter, providing a safe environment for young adults. Skanska provided time, resources and advice to make it happen.

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The word 'Harvard' conjures up images of ivy-clad buildings, Nobel prizes and the best and the brightest of academia – not youth homelessness. Yet, youth homelessness in Cambridge, home to Harvard University, is a growing problem. When two former Harvard graduates decided to do something about it, Skanska got an opportunity to contribute.

It's been estimated that 600 young adults in the Greater Boston area don't have a place to sleep. And while all homeless people are vulnerable, young adults are especially at risk. Unfortunately, many youths prefer sleeping in the streets rather than being exposed to assault and exploitation at adult shelters. And without proper shelter, many experience violence, trafficking, substance abuse and mental health issues. In the long run, these young adults run the risk of becoming the next generation of homeless adults.

A student-run youth shelter

Y2Y Harvard Square is a soon-to-be opened student-run overnight shelter, providing a safe environment for young adults. The shelter was co-founded by Sam Greenberg and Sarah Rosenkrantz, two Harvard University graduates.

The founders approached Skanska to ask if we were interested in doing some estimating work for the project. The plan was to renovate a church basement into a shelter designed for young adults between the ages 18-24. Skanska Boston didn't have to think twice about agreeing to provide construction management services free of charge.

More for the money

After having put together two estimates for two different church basements, Skanska's team helped the shelter's founders choose the most suitable location for the facility, which turned out to be in the basement of the First Parish Church in Harvard Square.

'The original plan was to let non-union contractors bid on the construction work to save on costs. But Skanska offered to provide our time, resources and advice free of charge and suggested that we apply some lean construction techniques and bring on some of our long-standing, unionized subcontractors' says Jim Craft, Senior Project Manager at Skanska. The subcontractors agreed to do the work at cost, saving close to $500,000, with a further $100,000 saved in the form of donated materials from manufacturers.

Not just a place to sleep

Y2Y Harvard Square has 22 alcove beds that homeless youngsters can use for up to 30 days, as well as several one-night emergency beds. The facility is the only student-run overnight shelter in the US and employs a youth-to-youth model to provide a safe and affirming environment for young adults experiencing homelessness. Throughout their stay at the shelter, guests have the opportunity to talk to case managers and make sustainable plans for the future including finding jobs and moving into permanent housing.

Open for guests

The Cambridge community and Y2Y Harvard Square held a ceremony November 6th to celebrate the opening of the shelter. As far as Skanska's contribution, the end result was being able to be part of such an inspirational project that will positively impact the lives of many teens in need. 'We're very happy to have been able to do our part in helping out with this problem and providing a safe haven for these youths in need,' says Jim Craft.