History of the Shelter
1983. New Beginnings. On February 17th, 1983, the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, then called the UniLu Shelter, opened its doors as the first homeless shelter in Harvard Square. In response to the much increased street population, four students from Harvard Divinity School and Harvard College, with the support of University Lutheran Church’s Pastor Fred Reisz, other Harvard Square ministers, and volunteers from the congregation, provided simple meals and sleeping space for about a dozen men and women in University Lutheran’s basement.
Although originally envisioned as an emergency response to a temporary situation, the long-term problem of homelessness remains unsolved and the doors to Harvard Square Homeless Shelter (HSHS) remain open. Every winter, HSHS has provided food, housing, and warmth for more than twenty homeless adults each night during the five coldest months of the year.
Although the shelter is located in the basement of the University Lutheran Church and benefits from the generosity of its congregation, its programs and services are all non-religious.
1991. Work Contract. Established in the winter of 1990-91, in order to move beyond temporary solutions to homelessness, the Shelter established this program to provide more intensive assistance to guests making the transition from homelessness to independent living. Through the Work Contract Program, guests are provided with semi-permanent beds and receive one-on-one support.
1999. Shelter Renovations. A major renovation project transformed HSHS into the spacious, well lit, and wheelchair accessible place it is today. The area is sectioned off into a large eating area with individual tables, a large kitchen and serving area, two spaces for relaxation, TV watching, and computer use, a separate room for laundry facilities, a men’s sleeping area curtained off from the main area, an entirely separate women’s room for sleeping, and a men’s and women’s restroom, each with two showers.
2005. Kitchen Remodeling. The HSHS kitchen was completely remodeled, becoming a safer and more beautiful kitchen space with state-of-the-art equipment.
2007. Resource Advocacy. In order to facilitate the transition from homelessness to housing, HSHS inaugurated a new Resource Advocacy Program, training student volunteers to assist in connecting guests to community resources, such as healthcare, housing, job search, and more.
2010. In the fall of 2010, former HSHS staff member Scott Seider published his book, Shelter: Where Harvard Meets the Homeless. It talks about the role of the shelter in helping Harvard students develop as people. Seider argues that students are uniquely situated to run a homeless shelter because they are coming in with a fresh perspective on homelessness. The book publishing resulted in increased media coverage of the shelter, including stories by the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post, and National Public Radio.
2011. HSHS continues to have the most volunteers of any single organization on campus and to be the only student-run homeless shelter in the nation. We are working to change the latter, through, collaborating with groups of students from the University of Florida at Gainesville, Villanova, and Stanford to help start shelters there.
2017. HSHS is proud to work alongside Y2Y, a student-run homeless shelter for youth 18-24, founded by two HSHS alumni. Both shelters operate in the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter area, united in our missions, structure, and history.