Helping our guests with their mental health issues in the time of COVID

Helping our guests with their mental health issues in the time of COVID

At St. Francis House, mental health issues are something that we’ve always dealt with. We see depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders. We also see a significant number of people who have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder. Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic is making matters worse for our guests. And not surprisingly, our staff is there to provide whatever support we can to the people we serve.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we thought we’d take some time to talk about this important issue in a three-part series:

Mental health: all tangled up with homelessness


 When it comes to mental health, COVID-19 makes matters worse

 Serving our guests, pandemic or not

When it comes to mental health, COVID-19 makes matters worse

Part 2 of our 3 part series for Mental Health Awareness Month

The COVID-19 pandemic has been causing a lot of anxiety and stress for everyone, and that, of course, includes our guests, especially for those struggling with their mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our routines, we wanted to talk about this important issue and how it pertains to our guests experiencing homelessness.

Some guests of St. Francis House who may have been coping relatively well prior to COVID-19, unfortunately now find themselves struggling more. They’re spending their nights and days in places where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing and are exposed to many more COVID vectors than those who are able to stay in their homes. The lack of certainty as far as when programs and services will return to normal, when the RMV and Social Security office will open, etc., causes considerable anxiety and discomfort for our guests.

Because of the safety issues that come with COVID-19, the majority of mental health care is now being delivered through telehealth, which is not an ideal way to work with those experiencing homelessness. It requires more coordination, and the guest must have access to a phone or computer, and some privacy!

Due to COVID-19 and public safety concerns, we are less able to “meet guests where they’re at” in the moment. Rather than getting help right away, some guests are seeing more barriers to their mental health care. Fewer shelters are accepting new guests right now, leaving some guests with limited options when it comes to where they can stay at night, which certainly adds to stress.

In addition, certain therapeutic programs, such as the St. Francis House art therapy studio, have had to temporarily close. With no volunteers, there’s no music or choir group, either. These programs offered our guests “space” to be creative and explore, as well as build a positive community, which is extremely important for people with severe trauma and mental illness. While our Women’s Center and the Recovery Support Center are both still active and available, the loss of our creative therapy programs has been felt.

The pandemic itself incites fear and anxiety among our community, as it does with the general population, but the guests who find comfort at St. Francis House do not have access to the same protections that the rest of us do.

In the third part of our series, we’ll explore the great effort St. Francis House staff are making with our guests, ensuring that not only their mental health needs are met, but resources are made available and accessible to them.

Read: Part 3: Mental Health Awareness Month: Serving our guests, pandemic or not.

For more information on the Clinical and Recovery Offices at St. Francis House, you can read more about our services on our website here.

Mental health: all tangled up with homelessness

Part 1 of our 3 part series for Mental Health Awareness Month

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking a toll on all of us, taking care of our mental health is more important now than ever.

Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of difficulty maintaining your mental health while experiencing homelessness, regardless of global emergency.

People become homeless for many different reasons, and mental health difficulties are often one of those reasons. At the same time, there are many people who did not suffer from mental health disorders before they began experiencing homelessness. If a mental health issue did not exist before, it’s quite likely to develop while they’re experiencing homelessness. After all, the experience of being homeless is traumatic in and of itself.

Those who are without housing are more vulnerable to experiencing trauma and being re-traumatized. They typically have less access to mental health care and are at higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.  Individuals may lack transportation to get to mental health or medical appointments or have difficulty maintaining a healthy routine and adhering to a schedule.

Unfortunately, guests who stay in shelters are at risk of having their medications lost or stolen. Those individuals who stay in shelters often have limited choices with respect to what they can do. They may have to get to the night shelters at 3 pm in order to get a bed, which means they can’t sign up for a mental health appointment much beyond the early afternoon. In the shelter, they often have to wait in lines to use a phone or a computer to make appointments, request medications and communicate with those who can help support them. Guests also wait in line to take a shower or receive personal hygiene items, and the inability to care for oneself can have an impact on self-image.

Those who stay outside don’t fare any better, since their time is very unstructured and their safety is at risk on the streets. Many individuals with several mental health issues choose to stay outside of a shelter because it’s chaotic, and being around too many other people is more than they can tolerate.

Homelessness is an extremely lonely state with no relief. Individuals may have trouble cultivating community and genuine relationships. In addition, when you are homeless, you do not get alone time when you need it. Whether spending their nights in a shelter or living on the streets, those without housing have less access to healthy, nutritious food; opportunities to exercise; the flexibility to focus on their goals and future – all elements that contribute to sound mental health.

In the second part of this series, we focus on elements of the COVID-19 emergency, and what this pandemic means for our guests struggling with their mental health.

Read Part 2: When it comes to mental health, COVID-19 makes matters worse.

For more information on the Clinical and Recovery Offices at St. Francis House, you can read more about our services on our website here.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Serving our guests, pandemic or not.

Part 3 of our 3 part series for Mental Health Awareness Month.

The mental health difficulties our homeless guests face have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Pandemic or not, the St. Francis House staff continue to offer critical mental health support to our guests, more ways than one.

Typically, the St. Francis House Clinical and Recovery Services team provides constant in-person counseling, but the ability to do that is extremely limited right now. Our appointment schedules may have changed a bit, but during the pandemic, a licensed social worker is and will always be onsite and available for a one-on-one meeting, not only for our guests who are in crisis but for staff who support these guests, as well.

(Pictured) Tim Bulla, St. Francis House Associate Director of Clinical Services, getting ready to start the day and meet with guests in need. 

During the past few weeks of the COVID-19 emergency, we have also been working with our on-site Boston Health Care for the Homeless clinic to get guests to their telehealth appointments, and help them to access their prescribed medications. We also work closely with the Department of Mental Health to identify guests who may be eligible for their services, and complete referrals for them.

We’re doing detox referrals for guests who ask for this type of assistance and encouraging guests to continue in substance abuse treatment programs that become available to them. Our staff talks to our guests about harm reduction and supports their ability to stay safe in the community, even if they choose to continue using substances.

At the moment, a number of our case managers are working in front door triage and kitchen roles. It’s been very reassuring for our guests to see their friendly, familiar faces. When possible, our clinical case management team is also following up with guests remotely, providing support, assisting with access to food, medication, and emergency resources, and, in some cases, paths to housing. Amid the pandemic, this reduces the strain on shelters and improves safety – including mental health safety – for all.

The St. Francis House staff is also greatly involved with the more mundane aspects of dealing with the pandemic. We provide a mask to every guest who enters the building and coach them on wearing it properly. The team also advises guests to wash their hands and practice social distancing while also maintaining social contact in a healthy way.

Unfortunately, it’s a harsh reality for those struggling with mental health instability and managing homelessness, in addition to being of the most vulnerable population that this virus targets. The work we’re doing at St. Francis House, to build trust, connect guests to resources, and get them access to the support and care they need, is more critical now than ever.

While there’s great uncertainty about when the pandemic will pass, rest assured that the St. Francis House staff are here for our guests — and that includes looking out for their mental health.

For more information on the Clinical and Recovery Offices at St. Francis House, you can read more about our services on our website here.

Read Part 1: Mental Health: All tangled up in homelessness…
Read Part 2: When it comes to mental health, COVID-19 makes matters worse 

Reflecting on our Corporate and Community Partners

We are so grateful for a community that has stepped up to support our agency as we adjust to the new normal amidst COVID-19. Even more so, St. Francis House is fortunate to have support from corporations and foundations that are committed to improving the quality of life for everyone in Greater Boston.

We cannot thank our corporate and community partners enough for the lunches for staff members, toiletry donations, PPE donations, financial contributions, and more that have made it possible for us to continue our critical work, including:

Arbella Charitable Foundation
Bank of America Charitable Foundation
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
Building Impact
Bully Boy Distillers
City of Boston Resiliency Fund
Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation
Hope & Comfort
Liberty Mutual Foundation
Life Science Cares
LogMeIn, Inc.
Natixis Investment Managers
New England Patriots
Reynolds Advanced Materials
Tufts Health Plan
Tufts Health Plan Foundation
Trillium Asset Management

It’s All About The Interview

The Workforce Development staff at St. Francis House are back this week to discuss one of the most important steps in getting the job- the interview!

Traditionally, many employers would start with a brief phone call to ask basic questions to decide if it’s worth meeting a candidate in person. The purpose was mostly to assess communication skills and ask questions to address non-negotiable requirements, such as non-English languages or a driver’s license. If everything checked out, the next step would be an in-person interview. During COVID-19, and potentially in the future, as companies look to save time and comply with social distancing, we are seeing an increase in  virtual interviewing as opposed to the in-person meet and greet. This increasing trend in online screening has job applicants “meeting” their potential employers on platforms such as Zoom, which allows you to talk to one or more people in real-time.

Be ready to adapt! You can take some comfort in the fact that all the great work the workforce development staff assist you with for traditional in-person interviews is just as important for the virtual setting. Researching the organization, preparing questions about the role, having your resume handy, and practicing mock interviews with others are still needed. You just have to make sure you have some basic technical considerations in place to interview online.

Here are some tips to set you up for virtual interview success:

  • Try to make sure you can access a computer or phone that has the exact or similar online tool the company will be using for the interview. Even if you cannot access their specific video tools, try to practice with someone you know in a “mock” interview on free software like Google Hangout, Skype or Zoom so you can see how to position yourself to be seen and heard on camera. Make sure you know how to mute and unmute your microphone!
  • Dress professionally. You should make sure you can be seen on camera from the waist up, and even in a home or computer lab setting, you are dressing to impress.
  • Set yourself up to be seen on camera. Try to access a well lit, quiet space with a neutral colored wall as a background. If you have to use a phone instead of a computer, make sure you can lean it against something instead of having to hold it in your hand. Also, make sure your head and shoulders are visible.
  • Eye contact is important.  Even without actual face-to-face interaction, you’ll want to look at the interviewer’s face on camera so they know you’re listening and interested in the conversation. You should also politely mention if you can’t see or hear them well, in case there are technical issues on their end. Communication is key!
  • An online interview is still a “real” interview: Make sure you turn off all other programs and exit other screens on the computer or phone you’re using and remember to silence any cell phones around you. Show your enthusiasm for the company, relay how your skills match up for the role, have questions for the interviewers, and don’t forget a thank-you email with follow up questions or information to add within 24hours!
  • Make sure your conversation flows on camera.  On most video interview platforms, only one mic can be heard by everyone at once. Make sure to not interrupt the other person talking, try nodding or smiling to show acknowledgment.
  • Prepare for mistakes to happen: Internet connection problems can occur; pets or roommates might suddenly appear. If an interruption is likely you might consider politely warning your interviewers at the beginning of the conversation. If a distracting event occurs, graciously apologize and move on with confidence.
  • Most important of all….be yourself! People hire those with the needed skills without question, but the difference between getting hired or not is you. Companies want to hire individuals who are a pleasure to interact with,  potentially for many hours a day for an extended period of time. So take the time to be positive and connect in a friendly manner, especially during this time of uncertainty around the world. A calm and confident person is reassuring. And similar to an in-person interview, you should bring up your questions throughout the conversation if they feel natural. You don’t have to wait until the end.

Best of luck on your virtual interviews!

As always: through email, phone, and video, we’re continuing to provide workforce development services virtually. We look forward to meeting you if we haven’t already, for guests not already assigned to a staff member but in need of assistance, there are a few ways to contact our team:

Lunch is on VMware Volunteers!

Our friends at VMware are regular volunteers at St. Francis House, and we could always count on having their teams work in the kitchen and in clothing distribution. Like all of our volunteers, they were disappointed but understanding when we had to put our volunteer program on temporary break in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Well, the “V” in VMware stands for virtual, so the VMware team decided to continue to support SFH, only this time, do it virtually!

VMWare employee and volunteer Tricia Peck put together a GoFundMe page, asking her colleagues to chip in to pay for a meal for our frontline staff. Here was her call to action:

I know we are all missing the opportunity to chop vegetables and serve delicious meals to the guests at St. Francis House (SFH).  While the current situation does not allow for volunteers at SFH, their employees are working tirelessly to keep guests healthy and fed. 
Let’s encourage the SFH employees by providing them with lunch from a local vendor!

VMware’s goal was to fund one lunch, but the response was so great that they ended up raising enough for three! Two burrito lunches from Boloco –  shout out to Boloco for their discounted “Feed the Frontline” menu – and subs from New York Pizza!

As Tricia wrote:

The staff at St. Francis House are putting forth heroic efforts. My spouse is a healthcare worker and donors have generously provided breakfast and lunch for the team every day. It’s a privilege to pass on that generosity to the employees at St. Francis House!

And the employees here are SFH are incredibly thankful for that generosity – and thrilled that they have those yummy lunches to look forward to. 

Thank you so much to all our supporters at VMware, and to Tricia Peck for kicking the “Meals for St. Francis House Staff” initiative off.

We hope to see you all back soon! (Just remember: if you forget to bring a ballcap with you, you’ll be wearing a hairnet in the kitchen.) 

Face Masks Arrive in Time for MA Emergency Order

Today, Wednesday, May 6, an emergency order went into effect in Massachusetts requiring face coverings as we battle to control the coronavirus outbreak in our state. We wanted to take a minute and thank those selfless individuals who have contributed hours of work and fabric to our mask project, enabling our guests to have the security and comfort of homemade face masks amidst this global pandemic.

Not only did we receive masks, but our donors sent kind notes, giving a narrative to the labor of love. One generous contributor said the following, “Sometimes my husband and kids help and sometimes I’m alone in the calm, just working….  My mom donated most of the fabric, she’s thrilled knowing where it goes. My husband pays the shipping cost and provides encouragement We will do what we can, as often as we can stay healthy and safe.”

COVID-19 is not a virus of equity, and those experiencing homelessness are the most vulnerable in the Commonwealth. The strength and resiliency of our guests motivate us and with your generosity, we have been able to feed, clothe, comfort, and protect everyone who walks through our doors.

Due to the circumstances and uncertainty around COVID-19, we are still accepting donations of disposable and homemade face masks until further notice to continue distributing to those in need. More information on our Masks for St. Francis House project.

Completed masks can be mailed to:

St. Francis House, Judy Coleman
39 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116

To coordinate a drop-off, please call 617-654-1239 or email

As always, we are so grateful for your support of our mission to be a place of safety and comfort for our guests.

Learn more about our efforts amidst COVID-19, or make a life-changing gift to the SFH COVID-19 Emergency Fund today.

A letter from President and CEO Karen LaFrazia for #GivingTuesdayNow

To our community,

Today is #GivingTuesdayNow, a new global day of giving and unity held as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19.

Traditionally, we would use this day to ask for your support of St. Francis House, but what I really want to do is just…. thank you. You have given us so much already. These last few weeks have not been easy, but we’ve been able to feed, clothe, and comfort every individual who has walked through our doors during this pandemic and that’s because of your contributions.

You’ve met our guests’ immediate needs, giving them hope and security, and your actions have given me so much confidence that we will come through this stronger than we were yesterday.

In 2019, we accomplished great things. It’s because of you that there are now 48 new units of affordable housing in downtown Boston for people who would otherwise have been without a place to live amidst this pandemic. And it’s because of you that our Recovery Support Center opened, giving a safe space for hundreds of individuals holding tight to their sobriety while managing the traumatic experience of homelessness.

At the end of last year, our staff came together and created this video to thank you, for it was your contributions that will continue to help many individuals rebuild their lives and find their pathways to stability.

Now, halfway through 2020, our plans have had to change due to COVID-19 response. The atmosphere is different, but our resolve is just as strong, and we are hopeful. As much as they wanted to, the St. Francis House staff couldn’t make you a new thank you video, but they asked me to pass along this message with the same energy… I said I’d try.

All of us at St. Francis House have been overwhelmed by your continued generosity, concern, and support. Your determination to help your homeless neighbors leaves us inspired and I cannot even begin to tell you how honored I am to be a part of this community. Thank you for allowing us to stand true to our mission and never turn a single person away. 

Please know that your support of our agency is saving lives at a critical time, and know the St. Francis House staff, residents, and guests are so grateful for you. Thank you.

Karen LaFrazia
President and CEO, St. Francis House

P.S. If you want to advocate for us, we put together this one-pager on ways to support St. Francis House and this graphic for you to share with your network on social media.

We’d love to hear what St. Francis House means to you. Make sure to tag us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram @sfhboston and let us know so we can share.

Ways to Support our Work: COVID-19

As we address the challenges posed by the Coronavirus strain COVID-19, we are working to keep St. Francis House a welcoming space of refuge for the homeless individuals we serve. COVID-19 has required us to limit much of what we do with our community of supporters, but there still are creative and meaningful ways you can help. Thank you!

Contribute to the SFH COVID-19 fund

Volunteer virtually
Social distancing means a temporary suspension of our incredible volunteer services, but you can still contribute. Please consider making a gift equal to the value of one hour of volunteer service, $32.15 in Massachusetts, to support our work.

Support our Team
We have a hardworking team of 50 to 60 individuals on-site every single day of the week, ensuring our guests’ needs are met. Reach out to see how you can support our front-line staff:

Women’s Day of Renewal
We are looking for donations of $5 gift cards to places such as Walgreens, CVS, and Dunkin Donuts for the women of St. Francis House in honor of Mother’s Day. Cards can be mailed to St. Francis House: Leslie Hawley, 39 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116, digital cards can be sent to

Make or donate face masks No walk-ins please
We are looking for donations of disposable and homemade face masks for our staff and guests. Completed masks can be mailed to St. Francis House: Judy Coleman, 39 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116. Please email with any questions.

Follow Us
Stay up to date by joining our email list:, and following us on social media. Search for @sfhboston on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and YouTube.

Visit our Amazon Wishlist
For the safety of our staff and guests, we have temporarily suspended all walk-in and/or used donations. To contribute to our emergency needs, check out our AmazonWishlist: To coordinate a donation of new clothing in bulk quantity, please email

Become a monthly donor
By making a sustaining gift through our monthly giving program, you will provide reliable funding we can count on, in times both good and difficult. Help us ensure financial stability, learn more:

Print and/or download this flyer and share it with your network.