Meet Patricia: A Story of Survival

Meet Patricia: A Story of Survival

Patricia Nieves’ mom was a survivor, just like she is.

Despite being married to two abusive men, she created a relatively stable home life for Patricia and her brother Al. Patricia recalls an early memory of her father holding her mother down, injecting into her arm what she now thinks must have been heroin. “It never dawned on me until I was in recovery that my mother must have become addicted as a result of what my father was doing to her, yet she fought it, overcame it, and took care of us.”

Fast forward decades: Patricia now had four children.

There were struggles, but life was generally okay until 2007, when her uncle raped her one night in front of her son Jordan, then five. Her daughter Sarah, then about 12, confided that he had been molesting her as well. He served several years in prison. Soon after, in 2009, her mother passed away from undiagnosed Hepatitis C and everything unraveled. Before long, Patricia was addicted to heroin – it helped make the pain go away.

With nowhere else to go, the family slept on a bench outside of a Lynn bus station and Patricia pleaded with the Department of Children and Families to take temporary custody of her children so she could get help. Finally, in an act of desperation, she walked into a homeless shelter carrying drug paraphernalia, knowing she would be arrested. She was, and DCF took custody of her children—who were now all teenagers.

Patricia had many more dark days…

There was a period when she slept on the street and in a Lynn cemetery, next to her mother’s headstone; estrangement from her children; shame, depression. One day she found herself at Andrew Station in South Boston, contemplating whether to end her life by jumping in front of a train. She had no cell service, but the station’s WiFi spontaneously connected, showing a Facebook message from her son Jordan. He didn’t care if she had a drug problem – he said that he loved her and didn’t want to grow up without a mother. That changed everything.

Patricia entered another detox program and “never looked back,” as she puts it. 

Her sobriety day was March 3, 2015.

Patricia found out about St. Francis House’s Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program (MAP) — 14 weeks of job- and life-skills training—through the sober house where she was living.

“Patricia came into the program with a sense of purpose, focus, and motivation,” says Abigail Casabona, her MAP instructor. “She was a good influence on her peers, a calm and pleasant presence, but she never let anything distract her from why she was there. She took the tools we gave her and worked really hard.”

MAP provided Patricia with the support that enabled her to thrive:

“They saw in me things I didn’t see in myself, and told me they would fight for me, even when I didn’t want to fight for myself,” says Patricia.

“But they didn’t baby us. They held us accountable.”

As of March 2016, Patricia works at Burger King at Logan Airport, where she has received several promotions and is now general manager of two of the chain’s airport restaurants. Gainfully employed, Patricia regained custody of her children and today, her youngest, Noah, lives in Revere with her and is a high school senior. Jordan recently joined the Marines, Matthew and his wife and their two children live upstairs from her and daughter Sara lives with her boyfriend and their daughter in Beverly.

 “St. Francis House saved my life,” says Patricia. 


Note: Patricia, pictured above with her family, was featured at our All The Way Home gala in October 2019  and in our December 2019 newsletter The Spirit of St. Francis. To hear Patricia’s story in her own words, watch her All The Way Home video below.

Recovery Support Center Created By Those Who Know Best

If you’re homeless and in recovery, it can be difficult to maintain your sobriety when you have so little control over your life. Between 60-70 percent of St. Francis House’s guests report having a substance use disorder, and that number is probably even higher.

St. Francis House’s new Recovery Support Center, which resides on the fifth floor of 39 Boylston St., is dedicated to helping guests strengthen their sobriety by providing community, activities, support, meals, and access to all of the regular services offered to anyone who walks through St. Francis House’s doors. The center is open the same hours as the rest of the building— 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. —and will serve 40 to 60 guests each day.

The most exciting part of the project is that the center is operated by and for people in recovery. “All of the staff members have the lived experience of recovery, so they can really understand and empathize with members,” explains Andrea Farina, Vice President of Program Strategy and Initiatives. Their job is to help create a recovery community that is welcoming, inclusive, and supportive of all pathways of recovery. But it is the guests who are in the driver’s seat.

“The center runs on what is called a peer participatory model, which recognizes that learning, growth, and giving of yourself to a community strengthens your own recovery and your sense of purpose, belonging, and self-worth,” Farina adds.  Guests helped with designing the program and are fully involved in its day-to-day operations.

At the Recovery Support Center, which is open to all guests who are sober and in recovery, members participate in activities, connect with others in recovery, access resources, and reinforce their own recovery process.  “We have been hearing from our guests for years that they need a safe, sober place to spend their time,” says Farina. “We are thrilled that, as a result of investments in our new building across the street at 48 Boylston, we were able to free up the space to bring this longstanding vision to life.”

St. Francis House has provided the basics, including a fully stocked kitchen for guests to cook in, a computer lab, a keyboard and guitars, a movie projector, and a ping pong table, and furniture that can be configured in multiple ways to accommodate groups and meetings. Breakfast and lunch are provided each day from the St. Francis House kitchen. Bright colors enliven the space and messages of recovery adorn the walls.

“As exciting as all of these resources are, what will make this center a success are the people,” says Farina. “This is all about people helping each other strengthen their recovery, while also working to create a shared vision of what a vibrant recovery community can look like.”

Messages adorn the walls of the Recovery Support Center.

Note: This article first appeared in the St. Francis House winter newsletter The Spirit of Giving in December 2019. Since opening in October 2019, the Recovery Support Center has had over 500 guests visit the center and 200 members officially join. Stay tuned for future updates regarding the Center in 2020!

Spending the 2019 holidays with St. Francis House

Thanks to acts of kindness through donations, we were able to provide our guests with wonderful gifts this holiday season.

The week before Christmas, St. Francis House gifted over 300 brand-new backpacks complete with heat-insulated hats and glove sets to each of our guests. In addition, we distributed gifts to residents of Next Step Housing, The Union and the Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program through generous contributors of our Holiday Gift Drive.

The following day, the Women’s Center held their annual party with over 70 ladies in attendance, enjoying catered Italian food and time to relax with friends. The women received gift bags, played games, and shared moments of laughter with each other.

On Christmas Day, St. Francis House welcomed Cardinal Sean O’Malley and musical accompaniment for a special Christmas Day celebration including a prayer service, carols, and a holiday luncheon on Wednesday, December 25, 2019.


More than 350 of our guests were served restaurant-style with assistance from over 50 volunteers. The meal included 160 lbs. of stuffed chicken breasts, 145 lbs. of mashed potatoes, 100 lbs. of green beans with almonds, 75 lbs. of cranberry walnut salad, 60 gallons of apple cider, 770 rolls, and 84 assorted holiday pies!

The Cardinal’s annual visit has long been a highlight for St. Francis House guests who look forward to meeting and spending time with him. Cardinal O’Malley has been coming to St. Francis House on Christmas for over 15 years.