When Harvard told students to leave its dorms for the rest of the spring term earlier in March, most would have expected that they would be empty until the fall. But if some students have their way, the dorms will soon be filled with a new kind of resident.
A petition calling for Harvard to house homeless people in its residential properties has gained serious momentum, having already amassed over 1,000 signatures.
The petition doesn’t only call to house homeless individuals but calls for the Ivy League university to provide both “free housing and meals to all homeless persons” in the Boston suburb of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The author of the petition, Masters of Divinity candidate at Harvard’s Divinity School Christopher Diak also told The Harvard Crimson that he thought that because “there will be thousands of vacant dorm rooms on campus” they could be “converted into a homeless shelter, at the very least for the residents of Cambridge.” The Crimson also noted that Diak had told them that he had sent a letter to Harvard’s President, Lawrence S. Bacow, making suggestions similar to those which he requested in his March 17 online petition.
This attempt to pressure Harvard’s administration to house homeless people during the coronavirus outbreak isn’t completely original, however. Rather, it hinges on actions by the City Council to lessen the impact of the pandemic on the homeless population. The petition references a recent policy order by City Councilor Marc McGovern, to encourage private institutions to work with the local government in order to house and feed homeless people.
Just days ago, measures dealing with housing the homeless and assisting shelters during the pandemic were passed by the Council.
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“This is a rapidly evolving emergency and life may change even more dramatically than we now anticipate, so, coordination between the City and the University will be crucial to our rising to the occasion,” Diak told The Crimson. “Furthermore, we need to understand that life will not go on as usual this semester and act accordingly, clearly and decisively.”
While many praise this effort as a just and compassionate attempt to help the homeless, in the midst of this crisis it may come into conflict with the interests of students. With many universities are forcing students out of dormitories to meet the requirements of social-distancing orders, controversy has arisen over the fairness of these measures. Concerned parties, from students to members of Congress are demanding that universities refund students’ room and board payments for the duration of the quarantine measures.
Harvard has not yet indicated how it will respond to the petition.
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