What does Pride mean to you?

Puja Kranz-Howe, (he/him) YWCA Cambridge Advocacy and Youth Leadership Manager

Growing up, I remember going to Pride Marches every year with my parents. They always were fun and filled with rainbow flags and joyful people. We would walk past the State House and wave our pride flags. I felt safe and happy. I was surrounded by my two white lesbian parents and held by their able-bodied, cis, white privilege. I had no idea that the first Pride Marches were an act of defiance and a cry for survival. 

Puja walking in Boston Pride 2000 holding a sign saying “FIGHT THE RADICAL RIGHT”.

Last year, I went to my first Pride March that explicitly centered Black Trans Women, which was organized by Trans Resistance MA. It was the first time I was surrounded by so many Black and Brown trans folks. I had no idea how validating it would feel. Over the next few months, I started to think more about who I was and what my gender meant to me. Quarantine allowed me to stop my daily gender expression. Being at home gave me the chance to question if I enjoyed wearing dresses or if I wore them because that is what our society tells girls to wear. Throughout my life, I always felt as though there was a part of myself that was missing. Much of my work with youth and anti-oppression is grounded in self-authenticity. Before I came out as trans, I never felt as though I was able to be my authentic self. 

When I was young, I loved swimming shirtless and playing sports. I always thought of it as a tomboy phase. But looking back, I wanted to be a boy. I was a boy, but I was born with XX chromosomes and assigned female at birth. And the world’s societal norms declared that my sex and gender must match. 

Over the past year, I have had the honor and privilege to launch a new youth leadership program called Gender Expansive Youth (GEY) with Georgia Wyman (they/them). GEY welcomes and validates the experiences of trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming youth while having weekly discussions about queer history, representation, activism, racism, identity, intersectionality, and more. We have been meeting every week since October. We have had so many incredible conversations about our lives and experiences, coming out, supporting each other, and learning about history and the world. I have learned so much from the group and have had space to discover who I want to be. Do I want to be a man? A feminist man? A queer Indian transmasculine person? Is wearing makeup and blasting pop music too feminine? I realized that I don’t have to conform to society’s definition of masculinity or femininity. I can be both, either, or a mishmash of everything. 

I remember the first time someone used he/him pronouns for me, and I got so excited. It was like the tingly feeling of butterflies. I was so nervous about coming out to my parents. They always supported loving who you love and got married when same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in 2004. I knew they would be supportive, but I was so scared. Raised in a family of all girls, I had no idea what everyone’s reaction would be. I had never met any trans men and had never seen any trans-Indian men or non-binary people that I could relate to. I am so blessed and thankful to have a supportive family. I am committed to growing and holding space for trans, non-binary, and queer youth of color. I know many adults also need more spaces to be held and celebrated. We will continue to shine and thrive.

There is a lot of transphobia and racism within the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual communities, and we must undo the hate that we have learned. Dividing ourselves only fuels the power of capitalism, hatred, and violence. This does not mean that we should forgive each other, but hold each other accountable and grow together. There are so many spaces for women that exclude trans women, and spaces for queer folks that should include Brown and Black folks, etc. I want to encourage us to lean into our discomfort and acknowledge our privilege. There is so much work to be done, and we can all start by listening to our inner voices and leading with kindness. 

Upcoming Pride Events:
Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts will be hosting the TRANS PRIDE Celebration of Liberation on June 4th at 11am at Boston City Hall. Learn more here.
Rebel, Rebel & Wild Child will be hosting the Wild Child Wedding Extravaganza 2022 on June 11th. Learn more and register here.

A Family Shelter Journey

Good Day People,

I’d like to start by introducing myself. My name is Kyeka Volanda Porch. I am 38 years of age and a single parent of an 8-year-old child. We started our journey in the shelter system in 2014 when I initially found out I was pregnant. At the time I was in an abusive relationship and was in need of a fresh start. So I found myself in multiple shelters before I ended up at Bigelow Street {YWCA Cambridge’s Former Family Shelter location}. At this time I wasn’t up to date with my health, my financial situation, or even aware of what I needed. Luckily, I walked through the door and met Trudy and Michelle who I would forever be grateful for meeting and didn’t even know it. 

I’ll never forget walking in sitting uncomfortably at the desk being escorted to my room on the third floor walking past what felt like the whole world in one apartment. My son was about three or four months of age tops and them telling me the requirements necessary to live there and to be assisted with housing. Of course I smiled and okayed, but I was so scared to fail more than I had already done. I was also open-minded and open-hearted to the experience. It’s funny when we are children we complain of all that our parents lacked or could’ve done better, not realizing parenting is one of the hardest and most fulfilling things you’ll ever do in life!!! 

But back to the story… so now I am being shown how to navigate  [my son] starting daycare, as well as opening and maintaining a bank account as well as savings and credit, meeting deadlines as well as being held accountable for all needs as well as faults as well as growth. I can remember getting in trouble one day because I decided that I was going to chill with a few women in the house and party before curfew and oh boy!! Was I in trouble! See, what I was also taught was that when you know better, your expectations from others are different. So the trouble I was in wasn’t just with the staff, but with myself as well since I knew how important of a move this was for my son and I consider that the only support I’ve had was them, and I remember sitting down with Trudy and Michelle and them giving me the most honest assessment of my choices as a whole and me having to take inventory of the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t able to fix everything overnight. At one point I needed them after exited into my apartment and they helped me through it and critiqued me after. I say all that to say this: I am still on the journey to becoming my best self as well as being the best mom I can be, with the mindset of always wanting to give back what was given to me by [YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter staff] , so I just want to say thank you and I’d like to leave you with a few words:

Sometimes in life we feel all alone
When there isn’t and hasn’t ever been a place to truly call home
And sometimes it all seems like a waste 
Until you look up when you’re down and see a stretched-out hand and smiling face.
And sometimes the very rocks that were thrown at you will be needed to build a sturdy foundation
Because not everyone is meant for an easy situation 
At the time that I felt everyone of these ways  
I was blessed to be put at the YWCA. 

Y’all stay awesome sincerely, 
Kyeka Porch

Mental Health and the Need For Safe, Secure Housing

Stability and consistent care are impossible to achieve if you are homeless. Then add the mental Illness component, and it becomes a vicious circle. Numerous studies report that 1/3 of homeless persons struggle with serious mental illness, which is also one of the top 3 causes of homelessness (via the National Coalition on Homelessness). Some people who suffer from poor mental health lack the ability to sustain employment leaving them with little to no income. It impairs their resourcefulness and resiliency to cope with traumas. Additionally, serious mental illness can also cause self-isolation from friends, family, and other support, putting them at greater risk of becoming homeless.

Even for people without mental health illnesses, living in shelters and on the streets can be challenging and traumatizing.  

Living in overcrowded, noisy, unsafe housing leads to stress, anxiety, social phobia, sleep issues, depression, and loneliness, which then heightens mental health problems and/or substance use, further exacerbating housing struggles.  The increase of mental health problems creates difficulties in keeping on top of bills, housekeeping, working, staying on tasks and routines. Stress can break down relationships with family, landlords, housing authorities, and friends. All of these factors make individuals with serious mental illness extremely vulnerable to homelessness and make it harder to support them once they become homeless.   Without mental health treatment and related support services, mentally-ill homeless persons face additional challenges gaining access to stable permanent housing.

“In general, 30-35% of those experiencing homelessness, and up to 75% of women experiencing homelessness, have mental illnesses. 20-25% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from concurrent disorders (severe mental illness and addictions).”

The needs of people experiencing homelessness with mental illnesses are similar to those without mental illnesses: physical safety, education, transportation, affordable housing, and affordable medical/dental treatment.

When providing care to those experiencing homelessness, it is essential to create a non-threatening and supportive atmosphere, address basic needs (e.g. food and shelter), and provide accessible care.  With access to connected services, it’s hopeful those suffering from a mental health disorder can live as independently as possible.

Good, quality, affordable and safe housing is vital for our mental health.  Feeling happy and safe in the place you live is HOME

Source:
SAMSHA Homelessness and Mental Health
Homeless Hub
New Horizon’s Behavioral Health
policyadvice.net
ighhub.org/understandinghomelessness
lifebridgenorthshore.org/

Where We Are & Where We Go From Here: A Fair Housing Month Spotlight on YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter

Kavi Kaushik, YWCA Cambridge Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator

April is Fair Housing Month, and this year was the 54th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. This legislation prevents discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. Although it is illegal in Massachusetts to discriminate against someone based on their source of income (e.g. a housing voucher), 90% of people in Greater Boston who indicated they were using a voucher reported facing discriminatory behavior from a rental agent(1). Fair Housing can look like more than just solving voucher-based discrimination, it is at its core about all people having their own keys to a place they call home. There is no one policy change or attitude change that will achieve this, but listening to folks dealing with housing insecurity and to those who work directly with clients is a starting place. What is working? What isn’t? Where do we go from here?

Kavi (they/them), our Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator, sat down with three folks working with unhoused parents & children at YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter, Renae’s Place.

One huge theme that came up multiple times is that the folks coming into shelter often are dealing with a lack of social support in addition to mistreatment at other organizations or social service hubs. Before folks are able to work closely with advocates and case managers, trust needs to be built. “Especially when you are dealing with those who have been consistently beaten down by laws around immigration,” Family Shelter Case Manager and HMIS Coordinator Michelle Howe highlights, “long wait times, dealing with people who do not take the time to build that trust before demanding personal information for legal reasons, etc. [are just a few of the challenges].”  

Trudy Bartlett, Manager of the Family Shelter, discussed how long this process can be.

“By the time we get to them, nobody’s going to tell you the truth until they trust you… and in the first couple of months, you are figuring it out. Clients will say different things to different staff, and we all have to come together and figure out what’s going on. And little by little they get to trust us. But it takes time to get across “we’re not there to harass you.” They’re being watched 24/7 on how they treat their kids. They’re under a microscope. And so it can be a process to get them to trust us.”

The history that some folks in shelter have with being mistreated, ignored, or just not supported often collides with the potential embarrassment of living in a shelter, where their kids can’t invite their friends over and can’t do things other kids can. Trying to live a “normal” life while in shelter is hard!

The second big theme brought up in these conversations was the overwhelming nature of some rules and regulations, as well as contradictions in rules between certain programs. Some residents in shelter are limited in the number of evenings they can be outside of the shelter, which impacts their ability to build support outside of their immediate family. Research has found that having meaningful social ties contributes to a reduction in mortality risk and improves overall mental and physical health(2). Regardless of housing status, everyone deserves the opportunity to foster social ties, and furthermore, allowing for improvements in social well-being can even be seen as working towards health equity.

So where do we go from here? How do we advance the mission of “fair housing”? Shamara Morris, our Housing and Stabilization Case Manager, brings us back to the main thing that can get overshadowed by rules, regulations, and time crunches: respect. 

She reminded us that so many individuals in our community are one paycheck away from housing instability and that everyone, regardless of their status in life, deserves respect and autonomy. Legislative and policy suggestions to support those individuals include: the need for more affordable units, the need for rents and subsidies to be based on a single-parent income, the need for more explicit supports in all social services for undocumented folks navigating housing insecurity, and the need for accessible childcare regardless of income.

Children and parents who come through the doors of our family shelter, like many other unhoused folks finding temporary shelter, can be embarrassed, disappointed, and insecure, especially when dealing with the hoops one has to jump through to access many services and basic needs. Michelle comments, 

“That generation needs to be changed. And they need to know they’re worth it. The parents are often already feeling horrible but I tell them, “right when you walk through the door… you are making it better and you are worth it”.”

This is an attitude I believe we should all carry as we work in client-facing professions, especially with unhoused and unstably housed folks, and as we work towards equitable, truly fair housing practices.

Thank you to Trudy Bartlett, Michelle Howe, and Shamara Morris for their time and words!
Trudy Bartlett is YWCA Cambridge’s Manager of Renae’s Place Family Shelter, Michelle Howe is YWCA Cambridge’s Renae’s Place Family Shelter Case Manager & HMIS Coordinator. Shamara Morris is YWCA Cambridge’s Renae’s Place Family Shelter Housing and Stabilization Case Manager. Collectively they have been serving families at Renae’s Place for over 40 years.

1.https://www.masslive.com/boston/2020/07/study-shows-high-level-of-housing-discrimination-against-black-renters-people-with-section-8-vouchers-in-greater-boston.html

2. Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501

A Short History of Cambridge Women

Throughout Cambridge’s history, women have led the charge in creating change, progress, and growth for the city. Their contributions have inspired individuals and moved Cambridge forward. YWCA Cambridge had the chance to sit down with History Cambridge’s Communications Manager, Talia Franks for a conversation on Women’s History Month: 

Whitney Mooney: Are there any “firsts” in Cambridge? 

Talia Franks:
Councilor E. Denise Simmons:
In 2001, Simmons successfully ran and gained a seat on the Cambridge City Council, and by 2008, she was unanimously elected Mayor by fellow Council members. She made national headlines as the first African American openly lesbian mayor in the country and the first African American female mayor in Massachusetts. Simmons is currently serving her 10th term as a City Councilor. Read more here.

Lois Lilley Howe:
In 1888, Howe entered MIT’s School of Architecture and took the two-year “Partial Architecture” course. During this time, she was a founding member of MIT’s first woman student’s group, Eta Sigma Mu. In 1894, she received her first commission to build a house. In 1901, she established her own firm and became the second woman elected to the American Institute of Architects. She was the first woman elected to the Boston Society of Architects. Read about her life here.

Maria Louise Baldwin:
Born and educated in Cambridge, Baldwin graduated from the Cambridge Teachers Training School in 1875. In 1882, she was appointed principal of Agassiz School, the first black woman to be appointed as a principal in Massachusetts. In 1916, she was appointed master of the school. Learn more. 

Whitney: Have you found any barriers in trying to tell women’s stories, particularly for women of color? How do you find missing pieces of history? 

Talia: We haven’t found any barriers. The issue was that it wasn’t always made a priority. General issues include mistakenly thinking that we should only celebrate people after they die (or only honor older folks), defining “woman” a certain way, or not creating enough trust with different communities to gain access to people. The information exists; we just haven’t done a great job of asking.

Whitney: How do we help continue to tell stories about the important work of women in Cambridge’s history? 

Talia:  We need to-
1. Say it is a priority (and then follow through with it) 
2. Ask people to share names of people they think should be honored (we’ve done this before and it has worked out well)
3. Have people who have the time and inclination to write. We, as a small staff, simply don’t have the capacity. 

There are countless women in Cambridge who have opened doors and inspired future women to push for more, break barriers, and lead in our community. Thank you to the many women who continue to make history. We are because of you.

Thank you to History Cambridge’s Talia Franks for their help on this project.

Experience Black Leadership, Black Woman, and Black Joy During Black History Month

On a recent Saturday afternoon Board members Ayesha Wilson and Michele Scott had the pleasure of a zoom interview with newly appointed Police Commissioner Elow and School Superintendent Greer. It was a lively discussion that covered a lot in a short period of time. While the idea of the interview excited Wilson and Scott, we came to the discussion with interview questions prepared. What we were not prepared for was how we, as up and coming leaders in the Cambridge community would experience black women joy! All four of us experienced that joy and felt even more empowered and encouraged to continue the great work for this amazing city. The conversation was rich and there were many takeaways as we sat and listened to these high-ranking black women share their life journeys, the work to be done, and acknowledging that representation truly matters. These women have already pulled up their sleeves and showed they are ready to “Walk their talk!”. Read some of the highlights from the interview with Commissioner Elow and Superintendent Greer, and we hope you feel that joy we experienced! Happy Black History Month!

Question: Who are you, where are you from, and why did you choose this work? 

Commissioner Elow was born and raised in Cambridge and entered the military right after high school. Unsure of what to do next, she took the police exam and quickly rose through the ranks all while witnessing the effects of the War on Drugs on the Black community. Twenty-seven years later, she is now the police commissioner for the city of Cambridge and has used her experiences to commit herself to procedural justice and to creating a better Cambridge for all while recognizing the historical injustices done to communities of color by the police. 

Superintendent Greer was born and raised in rural Tennessee, about forty-five minutes outside of Memphis. With an initial degree in psychology, she soon discovered her passion for education and mental health via volunteering during her college years. She became passionate about education after realizing the way it could change the trajectory of a young person’s life and yield generational wealth. 

Question: What are the most rewarding parts of the work that you do?

With her commitment to procedural justice, Commissioner Elow says that seeing her officers do that work is most rewarding to her. She is particularly proud of the work that the Youth Resource Officers (YROs) do in the Cambridge public school system and hopes it can be a framework for other districts. 

For Superintendent Greer, she cites the reward of seeing young students of color get excited that a Black woman is leading their school district. She also states that it is incredible to see that families in the community trust her by coming to her for help because “that just means so much and brings me joy to know that there is confidence in the community around the leadership that I bring to the community.”

Question: What are the most challenging parts of the work that you do?

Covid most definitely plays a huge role in what both of these phenomenal women define as their biggest challenges. For Commissioner Elow, it is seeing the mental toll this has taken on youth. She stated that “we’re struggling with violence–when I see fifteen year-olds picking up guns with large magazines, it makes me think, like what sort of trauma has that individual experienced where they want to hurt somebody?” 

Superintendent Greer mentions similar challenges but also emphasizes the challenge of balancing providing exceptional academics while also keeping students and staff both physically and mentally healthy. Furthermore, the Covid pandemic has definitely put strain upon the educational workforce and she is concerned about the future of being able to provide for students properly because of it. 

Question: What does it mean to you that you both identify as Black and women as leaders in Cambridge? Especially because Commissioner Elow was sworn in on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Superintendent Greer was sworn in during Black History Month. 

Both Commissioner Elow and Superintendent Greer discussed their role as mothers to Black children and how that plays a role in wanting the best for every child in the city. Commissioner Elow sees power in embracing her role as a Black woman and getting others to listen to her and her ideas about procedural justice. She is working under the idea that “if you do not get on board that maybe it’s time to go.”

Superintendent Greer says that she sees her identity as both a responsibility and an opportunity. She takes her role as a Black woman leader seriously when considering how to close the academic-opportunity achievement gap with students of color in school. 

Question: What message would you give your younger self and the youth of Cambridge today?

“Be unapologetic about who you are.” Superintendent Greer began her answer with powerful words and spoke about how life is full of “dips and curves” and that there is no specific path from point A to point B. She says to “own your truth. Own who you are and speak it, as long as you are not disrespectful about it and know that every intention you have is to be able to use your own voice because it matters, and be unapologetic about that.” 

In strong agreement, Commissioner Elow emphasized the uniqueness of everybody’s life journey. She also brought up the importance of finding people to rely on and look to for guidance and reveling in the moments that bring you joy.

A Note From Our Executive Director: Hispanic Heritage Month

As we close out Hispanic Heritage Month, I find myself thinking more often about my childhood in Mexico City. In 1985, two months before I was born, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the city. Chaos swallowed the streets, buildings crumbled, people dug through the rubble in search of loved ones. Decades later, Mexican people still exchange stories about that day. I have participated in many of those conversations over the years even though I did not personally experience the tremor.
Many buildings survived the earthquake but were left with structural damage that was not always visible. In many cases, irresponsible landlords ignored the need for urgent repairs in favor of cheaper and quicker cosmetic fixes. Focusing on the superficial can seem less scary than delving deeper and finding that there is much more hard work to be done. The tragedy in this approach is that willful ignorance can (and did) cost lives in the long run.

Today, I worry when I see this type of thinking crop up in discussions about the state of our Latinx/Latine/Hispanic community in Massachusetts. The Latinx community, with the Black community, was disproportionately impacted by COVID due to underlying structural problems. In what is perhaps one of the most cited studies about the wealth gap locally, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that the average wealth of a Latinx household is $2,700, compared to $247.500 for white households. Latinas have the widest wage gap of any other group in Greater Boston as compared to white men, standing at .55 cents on the dollar. In our Commonwealth, Latinx students from low income families are less likely to access early education; one in three English learners does not graduate on time and one in seven will drop out. One in three Black and Latinx 4th graders are on grade level in reading – half the rate for the state’s white students. I could go on citing troubling and tragic statistics…
So in the face of these realities, why do we let discussions about our community center so often on academic exercises about “what to call us”? Too much ink is being spilled on debating whether we identify as Latine, Latinx, Hispanic, Latino, or Latin American. While I think it is important for this community to unify under an “umbrella term” in Massachusetts, given that no single national group has the numbers to build meaningful political or economic power, I also wish that more of the discussion during this month revolved around how to bring concrete solutions to the plights of our community in Massachusetts.
Let’s talk about how to protect people from homelessness, displacement, and gentrification. Let’s prioritize equity in our schools. Let’s engage in COVID-safe behaviors to protect the most impacted workers. In sum, let’s act like we really believe housing, education, health, and safety are human rights! I believe we are capable of going beyond cosmetic fixes and getting serious about the urgent, structural repairs we need for our systems to work for everybody. We need to put our money and our policies behind this.


References:
https://eyeonearlyeducation.org/2018/09/26/massachusetts-is-number-one-in-education-but-only-for-some-students/https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/one-time-pubs/color-of-wealth.aspx

Finding My Way

Statistically people like me don’t make it out. That I’ve clawed my way forward says something about my resilience but it also says something about our community. I needed a lot of help to get where I am.

None of us chose to be homeless. I’ve seen and heard countless times, from people who have never experienced it say things like “if only they had made better decisions”, and while this is true to an extent it doesn’t capture the reality that most of us were escaping horrible situations. 

Growing up, my mother struggled with drug addiction and her own unaddressed trauma. As a child I suffered in silence. I shut down and became withdrawn. The people I maybe could have gone to, who maybe could have helped, I didn’t, because I didn’t know how to process and express the enormity of what had happened and what I was feeling. Even today it’s hard for me to talk about.

How can you plan for the future and focus on working to better yourself when your basic needs aren’t being met? In my teens and twenties I ran, sought escape and tried so hard to forget the pain. I had internalized so much shame and guilt over things I now know were not my fault. I had no self worth or confidence. I had zero stability and no support network. I didn’t think I could ever dig myself out of the pit of despair and drug addiction. I started using heroin to numb the pain but it soon took over my life and spiraled beyond my control.

I would be dead or on the streets without the services and supports I received. When I finally got sober I went through a residential drug treatment program. I had plans to move on but after my daughter was born with a rare genetic syndrome I found myself no longer able to work. Her father, my partner, was still struggling himself and not yet sober so I was essentially on my own then. I needed somewhere safe for us to go and that is when I came to the YWCA’s family shelter. 

Having a safe place to go gave me the structure and consistency I lacked. The foundation to start working on myself. Thankfully we have programs in this city designed to help people in need. Parenting programs, education programs, health advocates, financial coaching, volunteers who would come just to play with our kids. The director and staff would sit and talk with me when I didn’t want to be alone. They genuinely cared about us.

Childhood is as much about the things that do happen as it is about the things that don’t. I was never shown the love and caring that I deserved. I lacked so many of the things people take for granted like food, clean clothes, undergarments, toiletries, a safe space, having someone you trust to talk to. Shelter helps provide those things to the children of struggling parents.

Cambridge is a wonderful city. So many caring and compassionate individuals have helped me move forward along my path. Baby U, a family support program providing parent education and other resources, helped me learn to parent with love and compassion. I accessed support groups through Cambridge Women’s Center. Cambridge Community Learning Center was where I first learned to use a computer and set up my first email account. I received education and job training through Just-A-Start and later continued working toward my associates degree at Bunker Hill Community College. There’s many more, these are just a few of the organizations I benefited from.

It has not been easy. We stayed in the shelter for over three years before finally getting housing. Then, in December of 2016 my family and I became homeless again after a ten alarm fire destroyed our home. It happened so fast we only had time to get ourselves out. I felt like I had lost everything I had worked for in an instant. I was devastated. This was the first place that I felt truly at home and at peace. It was the first place I experienced stability. A month later my mother’s cancer progressed to stage four. She died in April.

The losses I experienced that year were almost unbearable. I fell into a deep depression after all of this. The loss of my mother triggered a cascade of memories to come flooding back. 

Thankfully our community once again helped us get back on our feet and we were able to move into a new home just weeks after losing everything in the fire.

“Sky Over Landscape 1” Medium: Oil on Panel, 2021

It’s been ten years since I stayed in the family shelter. I am still unable to work due to the lack of childcare for children with significant needs. I don’t have a lot of material possessions but I have love, family, and friendship. The things that really matter. This is my success. That I made it out of the darkest place imaginable. I have had so much trauma and pain in my life, but I am still here and my life today is a gift.

Last year with the start of the pandemic and being stuck at home I started doing art again for the first time since I was a teenager. I had given it up for so long, first because of addiction and later because I was busy pursuing an education and raising my daughter. Something about it feels right today, feels like it’s what I should be doing. Art is meditative for me. It helps me quiet my mind and process my feelings. And as I continue along this path I feel like this is what I should be doing and it is enough.

Check out Sherri’s art page here.

Sherri H., Former YWCA Cambridge Family Shelter Client

Youth Challenging Social Justice Issues: Homelessness & COVID

For her end-of-year project, Alison, a youth in one of our programs, teamed up with a classmate to research the question, “How is Covid-19 affect the homeless and our community?” Here is what she found out:

“2020 brought many challenges to the world, not only did it bring Covid-19 that killed many people sadly and left many families hearts broken all over the world but it also had small companies shut down, quarantine, and now has many students/workers on remote learning, in 2020 many MANY people faced challenges even kids, for sure 2020 was a very hard year that the whole world faced but it did not only impact those who have homes but also Homeless people by a lot!”

As we have seen over the last decade, youth are leading the charge in asking big picture questions that challenge the accepted realities of our society. Alison’s project challenged the glaring reality that COVID made impossible to ignore: the need for fair, equitable housing for all. 

“If you think about it Covid-19 actually has made it worse! It is important we talk about this subject because the homeless aren’t provided with the everyday necessities  they need to get through this. Like masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. So that puts them at a high risk. That adds more cases and more deaths of Covid-19!” 

As the project concludes, Alison and her partner give classmates and their teachers action items for how to support the homeless community in Cambridge. “If you want to go above and beyond by  helping the homeless you can, first start off with donating things that you do not need, you can give it to the homeless person yourself or you can give them to organizations and they can collect all the donations and donate them to the homeless! Things that you can donate do not have to be new, you can donate things like clothes, shoes, blankets, pillows etc!” 

As we say at YWCA Cambridge, youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Giving them the space to lead, gives us a chance to better our future. 

Written in partnership: Michelle Howe, Whitney Mooney, and Alison O.