For the past five months, the UniteBoston Reps have been engaging in various activities to listen and learn from their communities. These next four weeks, each rep will be writing a brief blog to share their findings with the Greater Boston Christian community.
We dream of having every community in Boston connected with a UB Rep! UB Rep Cohorts begin in October and extend to May. If you’re interested in being a UB Rep in your community, email Kelly Steinhaus, firstname.lastname@example.org
Harvard Square: There’s No Place Like Home
by Kelly Steinhaus
Cambridge has been my home community for almost six years now, and I’m coming to understand that in many ways, the Cambridge community is like a brick. 29% of Cambridge is enrolled in college (1), whose campuses are characterized by red brick buildings. In Cambridge, a person’s tends to be defined by the letters after their name, and, like a brick I’ve found many people in Cambridge to have a hard outer shell. Yet, I’ve also found that, once people trust you, people in Cambridge will open up and become some of the most loyal friends you could ever hope to have.
For many, a brick is also symbolic of “home,” which many people in Cambridge do not have. On one night in 2013, it was determined that 537 persons in Cambridge were homeless (2). Anyone who walks around Harvard Square will notice friends young and old who are living on the street. In fact, Tom Magliozzi said that “Harvard Square is the bum capital of the world.” (3)
Over the past few months as a UB Rep, I’ve become stirred by this issue and am seeking the answer to one question – What would it look like for the churches to come together to serve people who are experiencing homelessness?
As I began researching, I realized that what we don’t need is another soup kitchen. Lunch is served every day in three locations in Cambridge, with 12 dinner meals throughout the week – and this is only the beginning of the abundance of resources available. So what should be done?
I interviewed three people with this question, and found one common thread: What people experiencing homelessness need most is a friend. Tim & Alice Colegrove serve as friends and advocates of homeless youth in Harvard Square, emphasized that “We need a shift in our attitude from charity to mutuality. The church doesn’t need to provide services, they need to build relationships.” Similarly, Alex Grant from Hope Fellowship Church said that while we can’t eliminate homelessness, we can have a change of heart where we look at those we pass during the week and desire to help them.
I also had the opportunity to interview Stephanie Akert, Cambridge’s Director of the Multi-Service Center for the Homeless. From her perspective, one of the biggest needs is to help people transition to permanent housing. We brainstormed ideas as to how churches could alleviate the loneliness that plagues many formerly homeless people who become housed. Churches could be matched with individuals and families who become housed to provide welcome baskets and walk alongside them as friends in their new community. However, the logistics of this effort would be quite difficult due to restrictions in confidentiality and the dispersal of home placements far from Cambridge.
A few friends and I did an interesting experiment a few months ago – we stood in the middle of Harvard Square with signs that read, “Free Hugs.” While many were skeptical and walked by, a few brave souls came to give us a hug. They left grinning and laughing, bringing smiles to others passing by. This momentary embrace of perfect strangers celebrated our common desire for community. (Click on the image below to watch)
The UB Reps program has helped me to see Cambridge holistically. I’m coming to understand that more than a physical home, people need a spiritual place they can call home; a community where they are loved and appreciated for who they are, not just what they do. My church (Journey Church) is officially launching to the city in September with a campaign called “Helping Others Find Their Way Home.”
You see, a brick is only significant because of what it is a part of – a larger wall, placed in alignment with many other bricks. Truly, in Cambridge, there’s no place like home.