As the year comes to a close this evening, I hope you’ll take the time and reflect on how much your support has made a difference in the lives of each and every individual we have had the honor of welcoming into our shelter this past year.
We enter 2021 hopeful and ready, knowing that we were able to count on our community during the coronavirus pandemic. This has been an extremely difficult year, and I thank you for your support of our mission, and your belief in the livelihood and safety of our guests experiencing homelessness in the city of Boston.
We survived 2020, and we will carry on with our torch held high.
Have a happy and healthy new year.
President and CEO
St. Francis House
WCVB5: St. Francis House brings warm holiday meal to hundreds in Boston in Christmas
Meet Savannah Wilkinson, our December Staff Spotlight
How long have you been with St. Francis House? What is your role?
I started at St Francis House in November 2020, just over a year now. I work in the housing department as a housing navigator, so my job is to help the guests look for housing. This can mean contacting landlords, helping guests complete applications, making sure that they have all the identification and documentation they need for different kinds of housing opportunities, and helping make sure their move in process goes smoothly.
What part of your job do you enjoy most?
Housing can be a very long and involved process. This allows me to spend a lot of time with guests. I’ve gotten to know many of them really well and have learned so much about their lives. Many of our guests are going through some of the most challenging things a person can go through, and I am amazed over and over by how determined they are to improve their lives and achieve their goals – despite all the barriers they are facing. It feels incredible to support them through the whole process and to watch them grow. It is especially rewarding to help them cross the finish line and see all of their hard work pay off.
Is there anything you wish people knew about your role or your department?
I think the strongest part of St Francis House’s housing department is the commitment to stabilization after a guest is housed – this can often be the element of housing programs that gets the least attention, despite being probably the most important. People sometimes think of housing as a cure-all, but most of the same barriers and problems that existed before you got your keys still exist afterwards. If you are struggling with addiction, if your mental health is not being addressed, if you have difficulty making or sticking to a budget, if you feel isolated from your community, all of these things can make it extremely difficult to maintain housing, and we would be doing our guests a disservice to pretend otherwise. The last thing we want is for our guests who have worked hard and waited a long time for a housing opportunity to lose it because they weren’t getting the help they needed in some other facet of their life.
I cannot applaud our stabilization staff enough for all that they do for our guests, both for our residents at 39 Boylston, The Union and our guests who are housed in other locations throughout the community. In my opinion, this is where the real work to prevent homelessness happens. The stabilization element is how we prevent a cycle of getting housed and falling back into homelessness. It is necessary to ensure our guests have all the resources they need to succeed and that we keep them connected to St Francis House. We are there for those seeking help and reassuring guests that they are not alone.
GBH News: A time for charity – St. Francis House in Boston provides refuge, clothes and a path to stability
For nearly four decades, St. Francis House has served people in need.
The Boston nonprofit started out as a simple bread line in 1984, and has since grown into the largest day shelter in Massachusetts. St. Francis House is a place for people to go when they experience homelessness and are in need of a hot meal, clean clothes, a visit with a doctor or other services.
On the second floor of the organization’s Boylston Street building, a store called Fresh Threads is full of donated clothes neatly arranged on shelves and hangers. People come here to find pants, shirts, shoes and other essential items.
Fresh Threads is one of two clothing stores at St. Francis House that provides free clean clothing to those in need. The other store, Studio Shine, offers clothing for business attire for those seeking a job.
Icy Rolling, a Hurricane Katrina survivor, said she moved to Boston from Mississippi to get her life back together. She is looking for a job, so she came to Fresh Threads with interviews on her mind. Rolling searched through the racks to find a pair of pants and a shirt to “dress for success.”
Danielle’s life unraveled in stages. In 2005, pregnant with her second child, her fiancé died in a car accident, leaving her bereft and traumatized, but still able to care for her children with her own father’s support. Several years later, she married a man with whom she had another child. He abused her and in the midst of a contentious divorce, he died of an overdose. Eventually, her own substance use disorder overwhelmed her and she made the difficult decision to turn her kids over to her parents so they would be safe, but she maintained regular contact for several years. When her father decided that his help had shifted to enabling, he stopped supporting her financially. She took to the streets.
For years, Danielle couch-surfed, cycled in and out of jail, and did whatever was necessary to support her habit. Then one day she heard about St. Francis House. “Initially, I would go inside for the wrong reasons — often to find someone to use with,” she admits. But the staff kept reaching out — engaging her in conversation, stowing her bag for safekeeping, and bringing her coffee and piece of fruit when she lingered on the sidewalk. “They treated me like a human being, they weren’t judgmental, they talked to me, and always asked if I needed anything.”
Finding St. Francis House
Eventually she started coming inside more often to shower, get clean clothing, and relax in the Women’s Center or the Atrium. “St. Francis House played a huge part in keeping me safe,” says Danielle. “I would overdose and staff would call an ambulance and sit with me to make sure I was OK. Staff would always offer me detox and recovery services, but I always refused.”
She feels particularly indebted to guest engagement liaison Neysa Johnson, a long-time employee whose job is to get to know guests and help them in countless ways. “She IS St. Francis House. She really cares about the guests and treats everyone with dignity and respect, which isn’t something you’re used to when you’re using,” says Danielle. She recalls with affection Neysa’s box of keepsakes that guests have gifted to her over the years: notes of appreciation, trinkets, flowers that are now dried, but remind her of someone’s gratitude.
Turning a Glimmer into Full-Fledged Hope
“Even at Danielle’s lowest points, there was a glimmer, a spark, no matter how much she tried to hide it,” says Johnson. “I always tried to remind her that there was so much more to her than her addiction.” Danielle eventually got sober, crediting Alcoholics Anonymous and therapy — which has helped her deal with past trauma and grief — with keeping her on an even keel. Today, she lives with her husband and their toddler in New Hampshire, where she does coaching and outreach for a recovery program. She has reconnected with two of her three older children and just became a grandmother.
Her advice to others who are struggling? “Make use of all the services St. Francis House offers. I wish I had done the Moving Ahead Program and if I had been sober, the Recovery Support Center would have been an amazing resource.”
Boston.com: Looking to give back? Here are five places to donate winter clothing and essentials
St. Francis House has resumed accepting clothing donations after a hiatus due to COVID-19. Items accepted include footwear, jackets (water resistant/waterproof), hoodies, long-sleeved tops, sweaters, jeans and leggings, belts, backpacks, thermals, knit hats, and business casual clothing.
Boston Herald: Boston’s St. Francis House serves hundreds of meals to those in need on Christmas, despite fewer volunteers amid COVID-19
by Amy Sokolow
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:
A year after St. Francis House in downtown Boston served hundreds of hot Christmas meals for those in need without the help of volunteers due to COVID-19, they pulled it off again on Saturday despite only having half their usual turnout of volunteers.
“With a new variant right now, people are really scared. We had some folks that had planned on coming in, but had to change their minds last minute,” said Karen LaFranzia, president and CEO of St. Francis house.