Meet our June Staff Spotlight, John Doherty

Meet our June Staff Spotlight, John Doherty

Early every morning, when our second floor opens John Doherty is there to greet and assist guests and maintain safety. Our second floor is home to the Fresh Threads clothing program, the Carolyn Connors Women’s Center, the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Medical Clinic, and our shower facilities. Especially in the mornings, the floor is exceptionally busy as guests come in with a multitude of different needs. Regulars know John as a familiar and trustworthy presence on the floor as he constantly shows his dedication to helping people experiencing homelessness.

How long have you been at St. Francis House?

I’ve been here for a little over 10 years. I started out as an on-call fill in. Then I started working on the weekends and filling in somedays then eventually I started working full time. For a while I was working split schedule with a couple of days as Community Engagement and Safety (CES) and the remaining days at the front desk as the lobby attendant in the afternoons. Eventually I took on a full-time position.

What part of your job to you enjoy the most?

Working with the guests can be really satisfying. As much as it’s frustrating and exhausting at times, there’s little moments. When people we haven’t seen in a while come in and feel the need to seek me out to let me know where they’re at, or they let me know that they got the job, or they got the place to stay, they’re in school or whatever else is going on, I know I’ve made a connection. It’s nice.

When I’m away for a day or two or, God forbid, a week or two on vacation, invariably I hear complaints from guests when I get back. “You’re not allowed to take vacation!” all that kind of stuff. That’s kind of gratifying too.

Is there anything you wish people knew about your role or your department?

Over the time I’ve worked here I’ve developed skills, tactic, and techniques for dealing with the variety of different situations that I encounter. The relationships I’ve established with people, the guests and the staff over the years come into play in here in a lot of ways. The simple fact of the matter is this space is very busy and only one staff person is monitoring it. We have the clinic, we have the clothing, the women’s center, the showers and people coming and going 8 different ways all morning long. I put a lot into this place.

I’m up here a lot of the time just doing a lot extra, going a lot further. I finished helping a guest who is blind shave his head this morning. Yesterday I spent about an hour helping someone who was sick, laying on the floor in the shower. Having to defuse conflicts between guests, between guests and staff, it’s an awful lot.

I end up wearing a lot of hats around here. But this is my post. It benefits the clinic to have as much consistency as we can.

Is it important that guests see the same person here every day?

Yeah, it seems that way to me. It provides some degree of consistency for some of the guests. There’s a vision-impaired guest who has earned a reputation for being a little coarse. A lot of times we will be genuinely trying to help him and his response is lashing out and yelling or using unkind language and all of that. But when it’s me, it’s no problem. That’s because while I’ve known this guy we’ve established, if not a rapport, at least a trust. There’s an understanding. He knows I’m going to help him and that he can come to me for assistance. I like being able to provide that, it’s a good thing.

3 Ways to Help People Experiencing Homelessness During a Heat Emergency

1. Check in with those who appear to be struggling
If you suspect that there is a medical emergency – someone is sweating profusely, their skin appears clammy or pale, they appear disoriented or dizzy, or have fainted – please call 911. If a situation does not appear to be an emergency, but you believe that someone needs help, please call 311.
For those who do not appear to be in immediate distress, offering a bottle of water or providing sunscreen, a cap, or a pair of sunglasses are all welcome acts of kindness.

2. Direct them to a cool location
Avoiding the sun by staying indoors is ideal during hot days, but implausible for those without housing. However, there are public places with air conditioning accessible to anyone, such as several public libraries. Recommending one of the many shaded areas throughout Downtown Boston where people can find respite from the sun can also be helpful. They include the Boston Common, the Public Garden, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the mall on Commonwealth Ave and the Esplanade along the Charles.

The City of Boston also provides several cooling centers that are available when a heat emergency is declared. In addition to the city-sponsored centers, day centers where people go to escape the heat, including St. Francis House. Our fully air-conditioned facility is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (2p.m. on Sundays and Wednesdays) and guests are welcome to stay for as long as we are open. Here they have access to cool water, food, showers, and medical care.

3. Donate to local charities and nonprofits
Many local organizations are dedicated to helping individuals who are unhoused and donating to one of them allows you to help indirectly. Donations expand what these organizations can do, whether that be supplying water, producing shelter, offering transportation, or any other activities larger in scale than what one individual is capable of.

Guests Find Confidence and Self-Expression in the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio

When St. Francis House guests come to the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio, they often don’t know what they are looking for or what they will find. When they get there, our art therapist Gurleen Anand warmly welcomes each guest and encourages their open self-expression through a variety of art forms. Serving roughly 16-20 people every weekday, the Art Studio provides high-quality paints, canvases, textiles, and other art supplies to our guests.

“I make sure I give them the same colors I would use. The same quality of Canvas I would paint on, so they really get the best of everything and enjoy that,” Gurleen said.

While Gurleen often acts as a guide by teaching guests about different techniques, and organizing different projects, she makes it clear that she is also there as an assistant to help guests through their therapeutic, creative process.

“When somebody is their assistant that really boosts confidence. Once the confidence is back on the table, the process starts,” she said.

Some guests find sanctuary in the art studio on a daily basis and have carved out their therapeutic niche in the space. One guest named Moses never painted before coming to St. Francis House but has found it to be a great outlet and a source of peace. Moses comes to the Art Studio for therapy and self-expression but has also created a portfolio that he’s proud of in the process. He has even been able to enter his art into local exhibitions.

Ted, another regular of the art studio, says weaving scarves on Saori machines, working with textiles, and stitching tote bags out of canvas is great therapy for him. Whenever he is in the studio, he spends most of his time in the back near the sewing machines, an area that he calls his “hideaway corner.”

Ted confidently says that homelessness is just a phase for him and is determined to find housing. While he continues his housing search, he finds enjoyment and solace in the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio and what he’s able to create there.

Not every person who comes to the Art Studio is a prolific creator, and that’s ok! Some use the space simply to doodle, or even write poetry. As Gurleen stresses, the important part of the studio is not to create fine art, but to express oneself openly and therapeutically through art.

“The studio is about making sure they have that healing process. It’s not about an end goal or ‘what do we bring out or what is there to see or admire,’ it’s the entire journey. We’re talking about therapy here; we’re not talking about museum artwork. We’re talking about their emotions showing up. Instead of fighting outside, they’re fighting with the brush in the studio,” Gurleen said.

While guiding guests through their art, Gurleen provides emotional support and reassurance.

“Here, I make sure they have their self-esteem, I make sure somebody’s recognizing them, somebody’s appreciating them and that’s really important. At the end of the day, what does anybody want? Just love and recognition. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Guests who come to the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio have a wide range of experiences and passions. Almost all guests

visiting the studio have experienced significant trauma and are experiencing homelessness. With the resources of the studio, and the guidance Gurleen provides, guests like Moses and Ted and many more are able to carve out a space where they are safe, supported, and able to express themselves confidently through an art form that they choose. Along with other refuge and recovery programs, therapy and confidence building at the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio can be an impactful step towards rebuilding lives.

The Many Ways to Celebrate Pride in Boston

June is Pride Month, and in Boston there are so many ways to observe and celebrate the occasion! From block parties, to marches, to religious observances, here are some of the many Boston events happening in honor of Pride this June.

Boston’s first “A Very Proud City” series, Every Wednesday throughout June

At the beginning of the month, Mayor Michelle Wu announced “A Very Proud City” initiative, a brand-new series of events throughout Downtown Boston to celebrate Pride. The varied gatherings have shared goal of “highlighting connection, resilience, art, and joy for all Bostonians.” Learn more and see the full schedule.

Road of Rainbows 5k Run/Walk, June 11

Boston Theater Company’s fun-run in the Boston Common is open to LGBTQ+ people and allies of all genders. Learn more about the inclusive event and sign up.

Annual Boston Pride Worship Service at Old South Church, June 12

In this Sunday, Old South Church will hold its annual Pride Worship Service in their beautiful sanctuary. Learn more about the event.

JP Block Party, June 12

This exuberant, all ages, outdoor event has something for everyone! Taking place on Perkins Street in Jamaica Plain, the JP Block Party will feature food and drinks from local vendors, live music, and a kid’s zone. Register and learn more.

Boston Choral Ensemble Concert, June 12

At the First Church Cambridge in Harvard Square, the Boston Choral Ensemble will take viewers on a journey exploring the LGBTQ+ community through time. The concert, titled Sing We Our Tomorrow, begins at 4pm and will feature musical and spoken word performances. Purchase tickets and learn more.

Trans Resistance March & Festival, June 25

During the last weekend of the Month, the Third Annual Trans Resistance March will kick off in Cedar Square Park in Roxbury and a Celebration will follow at the end of the march at Franklin Park Playstead. The event is hosted by Trans Resistance MA, a trans and community led organization. Learn more about the event and its mission.