Homelessness, Recovery, and COVID-19: Taking it one day at a time.

It’s been three weeks now since St. Francis House first adjusted our services and operations for the coronavirus, and life as we knew it abruptly shifted. Although the streets are quiet, we’re still as busy as ever with 400 guests still coming through the doors of St. Francis House each day to receive services. They’re picking up bagged meals and emergency clothing, getting toiletries and taking showers, working with mental health counselors, and – most importantly – they’re coming in out of the cold and rain and finding a welcome and a friendly face.

On any given day, dozens of those guests will make their way up to the Recovery Support Center on the 5th floor, a dedicated floor for homeless individuals struggling to hold tight to their recovery. Fighting the disease of addiction is hard enough when you are homeless and it has been only exacerbated by the COVID crisis. The 5th floor of St. Francis House is a beacon of hope for those fighting for their recovery without the stability of a home amidst a global crisis.

With Governor Baker’s emergency orders last week, Recovery Support Centers across the state of Massachusetts have closed their doors for safety. Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases of isolation, and Centers have responded by going digital and mobilizing quickly to create virtual safe spaces online for their members to maintain recovery from the comfort of their own homes.

But for those without a home, that just isn’t possible.

As the only homeless-serving Recovery Support Center in the state, we are so grateful to be a unique exception and remain open and a place of refuge for our guests maintaining recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the shift three weeks ago, the St. Francis House Recovery Support Center (RSC) has been managing a new normal and making swift changes to ensure the health and safety of all guests who use the space.

The staff has made the decision to remove congregate furniture, space out seating, open more rooms, and place informational signs on the floor to ensure everyone is kept safe and informed. In addition to peer leaders helping manage the flow of guests, the team has organized a COVID-19 Support Group that meets daily. This new group gives RSC members a place to share their frustrations and the anxiety that comes with being a person maintaining recovery while homeless during a frightening global pandemic.

While we’ve all felt the impact of this coronavirus, our guests – often alone and afraid – are still fighting to survive in a world where too often people experiencing the aftermath of trauma, mental health challenges, and/or substance use disorder are simply overlooked.

Recovery under the best of circumstances is never easy, but we’re buoyed by the recent message that Mayor Marty Walsh – who is himself in recovery – sent to those struggling in this time of coronavirus: “We’ll get through this one day at a time.”

And that’s how we’re taking it at the St. Francis House Recovery Support Center: one day at a time.