Today’s Solutions: May 23, 2022

Recent Harvard graduate Tony Shu recalls his freshman year at the prestigious Ivy League school. He was struck by the affluence and access to resources at the elite institution juxtaposed with the homelessness he saw in Harvard Square, where many homeless youths are the same age as local college students.

Motivated to help, Shu began volunteering at Y2Y, the country’s first student-run homeless shelter founded in 2015 by Harvard alums. There he says he witnessed the creativity and resilience of the youth he interacted with, but says, “Despite their best efforts, they continued to face immense barriers to employment: negative stigma, lack of educational attainment and employment experience, life instability, and more.”

Knowing that he wanted to do something more to address these issues, Shu designed his own academic major, urban studies, that taught him about real estate, government, entrepreneurship, sociology, and urban planning. With all of this knowledge as a base, he decided to launch his own nonprofit with Connor Shoen, a fellow Harvard classmate, and Y2Y volunteer.

Together, they co-founded Breaktime, Boston’s first transitional employment program for homeless youth. First, the pair set out to equip youths with job training, because stable employment is the most determinative factor in acquiring stable housing. However, the pair realized that they needed to provide a strategy that went beyond hard skills alone, so they modified their strategy so that it provided other skills like financial literacy and a sense of family, belonging, and purpose.

Through their work, Breaktime realized that resilient local communities are less prone to homelessness, so the organization started serving thousands of meals each week and distributing an abundance of groceries and produce to address food insecurity. Their service was invaluable during the pandemic, as Breaktime “associates” prepared more than 650,000 meals for the community while earning a living wage.

Breaktime as an organization is set apart from the rest because it is able to connect its trained associates after they go through their (paid) training to local community employment provided by the organization’s partners who promise to pay living wages. This way, youth are lifted out of homelessness with dignity and through their own efforts in a community that they help to build and will continue to be a part of.

Shu and Shoen’s work has been recognized by the Harvard Kennedy School, which in 2019 selected them as Cheng Fellows, recognized for advances in tackling a social challenge, as well as by The Boston Globe. This year they were selected as finalists for the Social Innovations Forum award and the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

While these are already incredible achievements, the pair has no plans to stop their work. “We will continue to empower young adults experiencing homelessness to see their own worth and potential and become changemakers in their own right,” Shu says. “We hope that our work sets off a sustaining positive chain reaction.”

Solutions News Source Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

New program seeks to break the cycle between jail and homelessness

Several factors can lead to homelessness: a lack of affordable housing, high costs of living, and even, sadly, mental illness. Another factor that contributes to homelessness, which is often overlooked, is incarceration.  Many individuals serve ... Read More

How a century-old cargo schooner is bringing back emissions-free shipping

The shipping industry is responsible for 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — putting about 940 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Before 1960, however, when containerization started to take off, ... Read More

Dam! Europe removes record number of river barriers in 2021

In 2021, Spain began a movement to remove dams from the country’s rivers to restore fish migration routes and boost biodiversity across the nation. They successfully took down 108 barriers and inspired other European countries ... Read More

This contact lens releases glaucoma medication

While it is treatable, glaucoma remains a serious eye disease that can damage the optic nerve and lead to blindness if left untreated. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, and research ... Read More

US soccer and national teams reach agreement to close gender pay gap

In a historic win for women’s rights, US Soccer and both the women’s and men’s national teams have proclaimed a collective bargaining agreement to close the gender pay gap and ensure that each player, regardless ... Read More

New immunotherapy drug combo slows liver cancer growth in mice

There is something of an art to the science of medicine. We’ve all heard that everyone’s different, and so is their biology. Sometimes, developing the right treatment for a patient’s condition takes dedicated and creative ... Read More