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Bruin Shelter, in just its first year, has transformed the lives of many housing-insecure students. ...

Mongelli Award, Winter ‘17 – Bruin Shelter

March 28th, 2017

Bruin Shelter, in just its first year, has transformed the lives of many housing-insecure students. As California is home to one of the largest homeless populations in the nation, Bruin Shelter seeks to support college students who fall within this category. Bruin Shelter is one of the first and only student-run, student-led, free shelters in the nation. Harvard has a similar program, which helped inspire the idea and model for Bruin Shelter. The founders of Bruin Shelter hope to lead by example and inspire the creation of similar programs at other campuses.

Collegiate homelessness is not often understood because it is difficult to identify. According to Bruin Shelter’s website, there are three main myths surrounding collegiate homelessness. The first myth is that poor people do not go to college. The second is that all low-income students receive financial aid. The third myth is that college students do not have outside jobs. These misunderstandings make it difficult to draw attention to the issue and find solutions.

Working to deconstruct those myths, Bruin Shelter takes a stand for students. This often requires the organization to persevere through difficult situations. “The hardest part was convincing people that this could be done,” said co-president Luke Shaw. “It was hard to deal with rejection and disbelief. Thankfully, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica gave us a spot and helped pave the way.”

UCLA students who are homeless deal with well known challenges of college students homework, exams, food, and tuition. But they also worry about where they will sleep at night. As a result, these Bruins face residual obstacles like poor nutrition, unsteady sleep, and unsafe study spaces. Predictably, these can all lead to poor academic performance.

Bruin Shelter offers a free, long-term housing option so students have one fewer burden, allowing them to focus on their studies. Residents of Bruin Shelter are provided with a bed, a storage locker, communal dinner, breakfast, and bus passes to commute to campus. Additionally, UCLA medical students provide health care to residents in need of medical attention. In short, the organization provides resources and a caring environment to support a group of underserved students hoping to achieve academic success.

Volunteers play a vital role, as another aspect of the group’s mission is to empower shelter volunteers to become social justice leaders, philanthropists, and innovators. Volunteer supervisors oversee the program and manage general volunteers. “Each supervisor works eight shifts at the shelter per quarter,” says Derek Li, a supervisor who has been with the organization for the past year. “Supervisors visit the shelter every other week at night to cook dinner, talk with residents, resolve any issues, and ensure the safety of the residents.”

Witnessing Bruin Shelter’s growth has been an enlightening experience for Derek. Just one year ago, the organization didn’t even have a facility. Since then, they have gathered volunteers to help assemble the shelter and donations to furnish the space.

When asked about his favorite memory, Derek recalls a moment when he taught a resident how to play chess. “This made me realize how engaged and truly amazing the residents are. We bonded over chess as it gave us time to talk about our classes, lives, and ambitions,” said Derek. “I learned about the resident’s passions that night. Needless to say, I was truly inspired.”

Bruin Shelter’s hard work and dedication has provided students who have very little with a lot. The philanthropic message of this organization is what being a True Bruin is all about. The UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows are honored to award Bruin Shelter the Winter 2017 Mongelli Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement for their demonstrated impact on the homeless population at UCLA. To learn more about Bruin Shelter, check them out on Facebook, Instagram, their website, or email them at

About the Author

Written by the UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows

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