It seemed like a natural collaboration: Harvard College; Harvard Law School; a student-run homeless shelter; a student-run legal aid firm. Those parallels ignited the partnership between the Youth to Youth (Y2Y) and Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, which will go into full effect this fall.
The Y2Y shelter, founded by two recent Harvard College alumni, will house homeless youth and provide social services, job training and community programming. The shelter focuses on youth because Boston has a relatively high homeless youth population, but only 8-12 beds total designated for them, according to student attorney Awbrey Yost ’16.
“It can be dangerous for homeless youth to be with adult residents….The Y2Y founders realized, after being involved with the Harvard University Homeless Shelter for adults, that that the needs of homeless youth in Boston were not a focus for any organization,” Yost said.
Last January, the Y2Y founders contacted then-President Cassie Chambers ’15, with a proposal for HLAB to help them design programming to meet the legal needs of the shelter guests.
“It some areas, we saw a natural fit. HLAB is already in family court, and the guests may need support with guardianship, name changes, emancipation proceedings, protective orders and other issues,” said Chambers.
But those issues are only the beginning. Chambers added: “The founders don’t know what legal needs the guests will have because there’s not a lot of research on youth homelessness.”
To prepare for the myriad needs, student groups and clinics at Harvard Law School built a coalition to tap into the assets of each organization. The coalition will apply for funding and hopes to become its own Student Practice Organization.
This year, HLAB will serve as the legal services coordinator for Y2Y. Yost, the leader of HLAB’s Y2Y partnership, will coordinate a weekly intake table at the shelter, building off HLAB’s clinic at Rosie’s Place women’s shelter in the South End.
From the outset, Chambers thought HLAB should be involved with Y2Y. “It fits with our goal of moving services out to the community. It fits with our natural practice areas and the issues that our current clients face. And this is an area where we can do a lot of good. The people at HLAB are incredibly talented and dedicated. The shelter guests need advocates, and we can and should be those advocates.”