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Students, Harvard Officials Discuss Plight Of Homeless

January 21, 1986

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ Most students who met with Harvard University officials about the closing of warm-air grates used by street people behind a dormitory say they believe the university cares about the homeless.

″The problem will never be gone as long as there are homeless people in the area,″ senior Julie Schrager said after the meeting Monday night between officials and about 200 students. ″What we’re happy about is Harvard is not putting it off.″

No decision was reached at the closed meeting on what to do about street people, or the vents, which the college uncovered over the weekend because of what Leverett House master John E. Dowling described as intense publicity.

However the students, who were mostly from Leverett House, said they were satisfied the college was taking the plight of the homeless seriously, while trying to protect residents of the 450-student dorm.

Some, however, were not happy.

″I’m very upset with the way you’re handling this and so are my parents,″ one student told Dowling, breaking into tears. ″It isn’t safe here.″

″They’ve always been here,″ said senior Deanne Loomin. ″Everybody brought food to them, but we never talked about them until this happened.″

Dowling said he asked the college to take action last summer after a student reported being threatened by a man with a knife and others complained of the street people’s foul language and urinating in public.

He said he was warned by campus security that the number of street people sharing the heating vent had increased from two to seven.

The university covered the grates last week on one of the coldest days of the winter with tent-shaped iron grilles at a cost of $850.

″What I learned from that was the intensity of student feeling,″ Dowling said.

School officials hung signs near the vents, directing the street people to a university shelter.

However, few went, Miss Loomin said. ″They don’t like them, and even if they do go, they still have no place to go during the day.″

″Leverett House has a security problem, and when you house students they expect to live in a secure environment,″ said sophomore William G. Malley. ″At the same time, you have a social responsibility. No one knows what to say about an option.″

Miss Schrager said the meeting would probably encourage many students to donate time to the city’s three shelters, one of which is run by a campus church.

Dowling said the college may throw support behind a local shelter’s plan to expand, a proposal turned down by the city’s zoning board.