Reflections on the Year

Reflections on the Year

As one year ends and another begins, it’s inevitable that we look back at the past year and think about all that happened during it. While the details change, here at St. Francis House there’s usually a rhythm that stays fairly consistent from year to year.

New things do happen, new people enter our life: guests, staff, supporters, and board members, and we introduce new programs;  last year it was the opening of the Recovery Center. We run new events, and new and challenging situations emerge that we need to respond to. You may remember a few years back when we became an emergency overnight resource when the City of Boston was forced to close the Long Island Shelter.

But as we ring out 2020 and ring in 2021, it’s safe to say that 2020 was something else entirely.

Yes, it started out with business as usual. We celebrated Christmas when Cardinal O’Malley joined our guests for a day full of comfort and joy. In late January, we joined Mayor Marty Walsh by hitting the cold and dark streets of Boston to conduct the census of those experiencing homelessness. And as we entered the month of February, we were thankful that the winter had been relatively kind to our guests, with little by way of snow. In early March, we introduced the folks who, come April, would be running the Boston Marathon on behalf of St. Francis House.

And then…

Mid-March, we began to hear more and more about the coronavirus, including that the homeless community, individuals with underlying medical conditions, and those living in congregate spaces were at major risk of this deadly virus. Along with the City of Boston and the local network of homeless providers, St. Francis House began to respond in numerous ways, large and small, always mindful of both our commitment to the vulnerable community that we serve and the safety of our staff.

We quickly began initiating changes that we’ve been adding to since. Staff members who were able to begin working remotely did so. We equipped those working on-site with PPE and organized our congregate spaces for a smoother and safer traffic flow. An outside cleaning service added another layer of daily deep cleaning around the building, with a special focus on high-touch areas, in addition to increased sanitization by facilities.

By April, our volunteers went on furlough, our Moving Ahead Program (MAP) and new Dog Day Care Academy classes were temporarily put on hold, and we had reconfigured our basic services in order to continue meeting the need as safely as possible. Cold, bagged meals were served, and our clothing program had been reworked completely. While no longer able to accept clothing donations, nor able to offer daily appointments at our clothing center, we consistently provided emergency clothing and essentials like warm winter clothing to guests in need. In addition, the Resource Center has continued to operate throughout, giving guests the opportunity to shower, pick up hygiene items, use computers and phones, or get off their feet and watch a bit of TV – all socially distanced in reconfigured space, of course.

Our Recovery Support Center is the only such facility in the state that serves the homeless population. When other recovery centers were forced to shut down, we received a unique state exemption and were allowed to remain open for our guests in recovery. 

We made hand sanitizer even more readily available than it had already been. Facilities installed a hand-washing station in our lobby and HEPA filters in our classrooms and offices. When we re-introduced hot meals, guests continue to have the choice to eat in the dining room, reconfigured for social distancing, take their meals to other areas in the building, or take them completely to go in portable containers.

When the state-wide mask requirement was put in place in early May, we were ready, thanks in no small part to our supporters who took out their sewing machines and stitched up some beautiful cloth masks for our guests. We also began distributing disposable masks that our guests pick up at the door when they come in.

Guest Nytshall is thankful for our efforts. She told us, “I am grateful and happy that SFH was able to make sure they had PPE supplies to give out. It helped to keep more people from being sick. It protected the homeless and staff from getting sick and giving COVID to their families and other people, it made us feel safe, and it made us feel important.”

Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to provide medical appointments with Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program, mental health counselingworkforce development services, and housing assistance. Some of our work in these areas has been done remotely, but where safely possible we’re helping our guests in person.

Resilience ‘R Us

What COVID has shown is just how resilient our staff members are. Our work has long been augmented by the thousands of hours our volunteers put in. Volunteers at SFH are drawn primarily from local businesses, colleges and universities, and the ranks of retirees. While a few volunteers have now returned, businesses have begun a new era of “working-from-home,” schools are online, and many of our retiree volunteers are members of a cohort more vulnerable to COVID. All along, our staff members have jumped in to fill the slots once held by our volunteers. COVID has meant that staff members had to take on new and often additional responsibilities to keep SFH going.

Our guests have shown their resilience, as well, quickly adjusting to the changes in how we deliver our services and to changes in what we expect from them. For a population that, even without COVID, experiences a stressful existence, the ability to go with the new flow has been remarkable. Among the most remarkable: in June, having resumed both MAP and Dog Care Academy on a hybrid basis that combined in-person and virtual learning, we held two graduation ceremonies.

While some of our work went virtual, all of our events did. In August, the Shooze Cruise set sail without anyone setting foot on a boat, and raising over $30,000 and bringing in 200 pairs of brand-new shoes. All the Way Home, our annual fall gala, went off, as usual, without a hitch. Only this time it was online. While we missed the camaraderie (and good food) of our traditional dinner, we still raised $615,000 thanks to our community of support.

We still served hundreds of guests on Thanksgiving Day, and again on Christmas. And we still provided for Christmas gifts: backpacks stuffed with goodies for all of our guests; wish-list presents for our Next Step housing residents who live upstairs at 39 Boylston and for MAP class students; and gift cards for the residents of our affordable housing units at The Union.

We couldn’t have done any of this without the ongoing generosity of our supporters, the many individualsbusinesses, and organizations who stepped up to make sure that we could keep our regular services going while also paying for the additional pandemic-related costs we’ve been incurring.

We enter the new year hopeful.

Hopeful that we’ve turned the corner, and our staff and guests will soon receive the vaccine. Hopeful that we’ll return to a new normal. Hopeful that we’ll be able to welcome all of our volunteers back.

Hopeful that, when we look back on 2021, we’ll find that we’ve come out of this stronger than ever before and that we’ll never lose the St. Francis Spirit – so aptly reflected in the words of guest Dwayne D.

“If SFH wasn’t here and open, people would have nowhere to go. It feels good to come to a place where you know people care about you. They’re not here to just collect a paycheck. The staff has been so patient with everyone given the circumstances. I am so appreciative.” Words echoed by another guest Russell L., “St. Francis House cares. It shows when you come into the building. I feel safe here. Everyone cares about us here, and it’s important to know people care about us.” 

Christmas – here, there, everywhere – thanks to staff and a generous board member.

On December 1st, St. Francis House leased and began operating a motel to be used as a temporary winter shelter in response to the reduced capacity of existing shelters due to COVID. This auxiliary shelter is helping to ensure homeless individuals have a safe place to stay and can comply with the safety guidelines from the CDC.

Thanks to a generous donation from a board member of St. Francis House, the “elves” have been working hard to make the holidays come alive for the men, women, and people residing there this season!

Decorations and Christmas trees adorn hotel common areas, made with ornaments created by guests and staff. Guests will receive gift packs – a backpack stuffed with ear warmers, a scarf, a hat, gloves, gourmet candies, socks, and some other fun items. On Christmas Day, there will be Christmas music playing throughout the halls, and a hot chocolate bar with lots of sugary fixings will be available for a sweet treat – all provided in COVID-style to ensure everyone’s safety. In addition, there will be socially distanced bingo throughout the day.

Thanks to the generosity of one of our board members, guests will also be served a special menu for Christmas! On Christmas Eve, we’ll be serving lasagna, with caesar salad, and toasted garlic bread. On Christmas Day we’ll have frittata, potatoes, fresh fruit, and donuts for breakfast, sliced beef tenderloin and au gratin potatoes for lunch, and a special seared steak with mushroom sauce, roasted vegetables, and cake for dinner.

We are so grateful that we were able to convert this motel into safe lodging for vulnerable men, women, and people with nowhere else to turn and fill it with Christmas cheer.

National Homeless Memorial Day 2020

The Winter Solstice is the darkest day of the year. The day of the year with the fewest hours of day light and the longest night of the year. It is also the day we mark National Homeless Memorial Day in recognition of all who passed away while homeless. 

Today, I will join friends and colleagues on the Boston Common, alongside men and women who are currently living on the street or in shelters and with those who once lived homeless. Together we will listen as the names of those who have died while homeless are read aloud. We will remember their smiles, their pains, celebrate their lives and grieve that they did not live long enough to find a way home. 

Across the country vigils like this will be held as thousands gather refusing to allow their deaths go unnoticed. We will decry the failure of our society to ensure that all people have the protection of a home. And we will commit ourselves to ensuring the dawn of a new day when we can finally end homelessness.

I will silently pray for my friend Jane (not her real name) who struggles to survive every night on the street. She sleeps in the dark corners of the city and comes to St. Francis House in the morning to take a shower, get a clean change of clothes and eat a hot meal. She is sick and tired but she is not without hope. Yesterday she showed me a picture of her daughter and told me she longs for the day they can be together. I pray that her name will not be read at next year’s vigil.

And I will remember Jimmy who spent years sleeping on the street. His last winter homeless he spent every night covered by a blue tarp in front of St. Francis House waiting for the break of day and for our doors to open. 

Every morning as the sun rises I watch hundreds of men and women arrive carrying their bags, pulling broken suitcases, some clutching the blanket they wrapped around themselves the night before, others come in wheelchairs or on crutches, some are sick with cancer, some sick with addiction. All need and deserve the peace, comfort and safety of a home.

This has been a dark difficult year for all of us. Lives and livelihoods have been disrupted and lost. We have all felt the fear and anxiety of the spread of the corona virus that has threatened the health and lives of everyone. Without the protection of a home, our homeless brothers and sisters were and still are especially vulnerable. 

Many things have changed these past several months as we adapted to the new realities of COVID. But after a long cold night, St. Francis House is still a welcoming place of refuge.  Our doors have remained open throughout the pandemic. Every day we welcome our guests, provide nourishing meals, warm clothes, and with love that has no conditions we create pathways out of homelessness through finding recovery, employment and a home.

Tomorrow the days will start to get a bit longer and there will be more light than darkness. And where there is light there is hope. Hope that for all the guests of St. Francis House tomorrow will not just be the dawn of a new day but of a new life.

Thank you for all your support,

Gratefully yours,

Karen LaFrazia
President and CEO
St. Francis House

St. Francis House on WCVB Chronicle Channel 5

On Monday, December 21st, St. Francis House was featured on Chronicle on WCVB Channel 5 as part of a series on helping individuals experiencing homelessness.

The segment features Katie – one of our dedicated volunteers at St. Francis House who has been helping out in our kitchen consistently throughout the pandemic.

Watch the segment here:

We’re so honored to be featured as part of the effort in Boston turning loneliness into hope.

Support for our shelter can be made through our Amazon Wishlist: https://stfrancishouse.org/wishlist or through a financial gift.

Christmas at. St. Francis House

 

The holidays are always tough for the guests of St. Francis House. No stocking to hang by the chimney with care. No presents under the tree. COVID has made things hard for all of us, but it’s even worse when you don’t have a home of your own to go home to. Some of our guests usually do get to spend time with family and friends during the holidays, but that’s pretty much out this year – another big disappointment.

“With the pandemic, this year has been an especially difficult one for our guests,” says St. Francis House President Karen LaFrazia. “And while we always do everything we can to make the holidays special, this year our wonderful and dedicated staff is particularly focused on bringing ‘comfort and joy’ to all the men and women who we welcome this holiday season.”

As always, thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the Holiday Gift Drive will ensure the residents of Next Step Housing at 39 Boylston and our MAP students receive gifts from their “wish lists” – such as sheets, pots and pans, and jackets. In addition, residents of The Union at 48 Boylston will receive gift cards from places like Target and Roche Brothers, so that they can do something special for themselves or treat a friend or family member.

 

Judy Coleman, Manager of Guest Services, is always super-focused on taking care of our guests. For the past few weeks, she and her team have been busily stuffing backpacks that all of our guests will receive for Christmas. A backpack alone is a wonderful gift for our guests – ask anyone who has volunteered in the clothing center – but these backpacks will be stuffed with goodies:

  • Sweatshirt
  • Inspiration bracelets
  • Candy
  • Ear-buds
  • Hand-warmers
  • Gift cards to places like Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Kits containing, gloves, hats, scarf

Judy and her team have added assembling the backpacks to their already crowded list of responsibilities – and they’re doing their stuffing without the help of the volunteers who usually pitch in.

For Christmas Day, Chef Seth Green is preparing a sumptuous feast for the hundreds of guests we’re expecting: 420 stuffed cranberry and orange chicken breasts accompanied by 168 lbs of mashed potatoes, 100 lbs of sauteed green beans, 12 gallons of gravy, 50 lbs of cranberry sauce, and hundreds of warm, toasted rolls. And for dessert, there’ll be pies, of course. The meals can be enjoyed, socially distanced, in the dining room or in spots throughout the building.

Members of the Recovery Support Center will be able to bring their meals up to the fifth floor and dine there (again, socially distanced). And Program Manager Efrain Lozada has promised extra desserts – sshhh: don’t tell anyone! – and a karaoke machine playing carols.

All in all – and despite all the stress and strain that 2020 has brought with it – we’re looking forward to a very Merry Christmas for all of our guests.

Many thanks to our friends at Rotary International!

At St. Francis House we’re most fortunate to have so many generous supporters. This has been especially true since the pandemic struck and, with it, our expenses increased dramatically. One of our newest supporters is Rotary International.

Local Rotary District 7930 received a grant from The Rotary Foundation to help with COVID relief, and they’ve awarded a significant portion of that grant to SFH to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff who engage in face-to-face mental health services, and to assist with our food program. The funding that Rotary District 7930 received from the Foundation was augmented by donations from a number of local area Rotary Clubs, as well as from Rotary Clubs in Kyoto, which is Boston’s sister city. The Rotary is a service organization made up of business and professional leaders, dedicated to providing humanitarian service. The other local beneficiary of the Rotary grant is Care Dimensions, which offers hospice and palliative care services throughout Eastern Massachusetts.

The funds we’ve received from the Rotary are being put to good use.

A major element of the health care we offer is related to mental health, and each year our Mental Health and Case Management teams provide 12,000 instances of counseling services. In addition, our Client Engagement Services personnel serve as first responders for guests in distress.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the population we serve, with mental health issues exacerbated by the stress and uncertainty the pandemic has brought with it. It has also impacted the way we deliver services to our guests, and St. Francis House has been hit with the unanticipated and ongoing expense of outfitting our counseling staff with PPE.

St. Francis House staff members serving breakfast “to-go” in styrofoam containers.

In addition, the pandemic has altered the way in which we are able to provide meals to our guests. Since we are no longer able to rely on the volunteers who for years have worked in the kitchen prepping and serving meals, we have had to add additional paid staff for our food program. We’ve also seen an uptick in kitchen-related costs because the meals have been prepared “to-go”, rather than served on reusable trays.

Now, thanks to Rotary International, we’re able to provide PPE for our staff and continue to safely offer our guests healthy and nutritious meals.

So thank you, Rotary International District 7390. We couldn’t do all that we do if it weren’t for the generosity of organizations like yours.