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.