St. Francis House; Introducing our New Normal

St. Francis House; Introducing our New Normal

In mid-September, we will officially mark the six-month anniversary of living with the COVID pandemic. At St. Francis House, we certainly don’t celebrate the existence of this terrible pandemic, but we do commend the incredible resilience and strength of our staff and guests over the past few months. That response has been continuing to offer essential services for more than 500 individuals in need, day in and day out.

Over the past six months we’ve made a lot of changes:

  • Every day, at the front door, we distribute clean face masks to our guests and make sure the hand sanitizer is readily available on every tabletop. In addition, we have also added a hand-washing station in our lobby.
  • We’ve installed plexiglass dividers and distance-markers on our floors and walls so that we can all stay safe and socially distant from each other while continuing to carry on our work and meet the needs of our guests.
  • Our hardworking team onsite works one-on-one with guests, ensuring they stay informed of COVID-19 precautions, and encourage guests to do a thorough washing as often as they can. (We sometimes do overhear folks singing Happy Birthday twice – it’s an effective strategy!)
  • All of our classrooms and offices now have HEPA filters and have been reconfigured to maximize space.
  • Our congregate spaces, such as the dining room, our Atrium, and Resource Center, have been reorganized so that there’s a smoother and safer flow of traffic.
  • We’ve reworked our meal program permanently, and are now offering cold grab-and-go items throughout the day. Our hot meals are now served in takeaway containers so our guests can spread out beyond the dining room, find a park bench on the Common on pleasant days, or take it to-go to eat at their own pace.
  • And we haven’t forgotten our residents, who live in our affordable, supportive housing units. We’ve been protecting them with PPE, best practices training, and food and medicine delivery if needed.

In making these changes and as we plan for the future, the team at St. Francis House has been grateful to have the visit of an infectious disease specialist to make recommendations.

Moving forward, we’ll be redesigning a number of guest spaces throughout 39 Boylston, always with an eye toward balancing safety and security with the need to make our guests feel comfortable and welcome, and to ensure that they’re afforded the dignity they so deserve.

With many of our staff members working from home over the past few months, we’ve made other changes as well. Program staff found alternative ways to connect with guests: online, over the phone, and even outdoors.

We are beginning to welcome staff members who have been working remotely back to St. Francis House, and some volunteers have started helping out in the kitchen again. Looking towards the future, there will be a new normal. It will, of course, be one in which we continue to adapt to our guests’ needs and help each and every one of them on their unique path towards rebuilding their lives.

Labor Day: The Meaning of Work

Labor Day means different things to different people. It’s the end of summer. The kids go back to school. It’s football, apples, and pumpkins just around the corner. But if we look at the true meaning of the day, it is–most importantly–a time to think about work.

Our work helps define us. If we have a career that’s especially fulfilling to us, we take pride in telling someone about it, telling them that’s who we are. I’m a social worker. I’m a mechanic. I’m a techie. I’m a chef. Even if we view our work more as a paycheck than a calling, we can still take pride in supporting ourselves and our families.

Work gives purpose to our lives, shape to our days. It’s where we find companionship and meaning, a place where we can use our skills, our knowledge, and our creativity. And this is true whether our work is centered on earning money, taking care of our families and homes, or volunteering.

When we’re out of work, we can find ourselves lost and at odds.

Now suppose you’re experiencing joblessness alongside homelessness… Not something that most of us want to think about. But that’s the reality of many of our guests here at St. Francis House. So it’s no surprise that, when we work with our guests, they’ll tell us they have two top priorities: a place to live and a job. 

Unfortunately, for many of our guests, the barriers to finding a job can seem overwhelming. A period of incarceration, a past history of substance abuse, mental health, or physical health issues. There may be gaps in their work history, an educational system that has failed them, or talents that have simply gone unexplored.

Then there are simpler barriers. What if you don’t have an ID? An address to put on your resume?  Reliable access to voicemail and email? Ways to contact your references? A computer to help with your job search? Something to wear for an interview, or for that first day on the new job?

At St. Francis House, we work with our guests on how they can overcome barriers to finding work, both large and small. And despite the global pandemic, we’re still making sure of it. 

COVID-19 has certainly made things more difficult for our guests, but, together, we persevered and held two successful Workforce Development graduations this summer and are preparing to welcome the Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program (MAP) Class 185 this fall. MAP is our nationally-recognized workforce initiative, a 14-week job- and life-skills program for those who’ve experienced homelessness. MAP works, and we have the stats to prove it in terms of jobs found, and jobs held.

Despite COVID, our Workforce team at St. Francis House has continued to adapt and move forward with several services our guests rely on, including an Accelerated Program for those who just need to brush up on their job-seeking skills and individualized, one-on-one support to those looking for work.

In addition, St. Francis House is a MassHire Access Point, selected by the Boston Private Industry Council and the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development to help job seekers navigate the many state and local, private and public, resources available to them.

Supporting our guests means taking care of what may seem like smaller details, but can feel insurmountable. For example, those without housing can pick up their mail at 39 Boylston St. They can use our computers to check their email, and search for job opportunities, and our voicemail system to give and receive messages. We can help them secure a missing ID, or apply for a new one, and straighten out issues with their criminal record. At St. Francis House, our guests can find interview clothing and back-to-work outfits.

Anyone who’s attended MAP graduation has seen the joy and sense of accomplishment on the faces of the graduates. Many of them have already found a job; the remainder are confident that they’ll be able to do so if they just keep plugging. Anyone who’s worked in our clothing center has heard the pride in the voice of someone who lets us know that they need boots for a construction gig, or a white shirt for a restaurant job. Anyone who has spent time in our Resource Center has handed a guest soap and shampoo so they can take a shower, and given them a T-pass, so they can be all set for the job interview they’re so excited about.

As we celebrate Labor Day, it’s a good time to reflect on the meaning of work, and how meaningful it is to be able to help our guests find it, especially at a time where COVID-19 has resulted in an extremely high unemployment rate. At St. Francis House, we are forever grateful for the support of our community as we adapt our Workforce services with COVID-19 safety precautions in mind, and continue to connect our guests to the programs they need in order to move forward and rebuild their lives.