A Place to Call Your Own: Helping Guests Find a Permanent Home

Housing Image Next Step Counseling and Housing Support staff

St. Francis House staff like Kim, Corey, and Neysa provide many housing resources for guests

For the first time in many years, Gerard Ready has a home of his own, thanks to St. Francis House.

And although it’s been more than a year since he moved into his rooming house on the Dorchester/Roxbury line, he still gets excited talking about it.

“I can cook for myself, I can sleep when I want, I can just lounge around and watch tv,” says Ready, 63, who became housed in the spring of 2015 with the assistance of St. Francis House housing specialist Neysa Johnson. “When you stay at a shelter, you have to be up by a certain time, out by a certain time and in at a certain time and you sleep with one eye open. Now, I can finally relax.”

Help with the Housing Application Process

With its limited supply of affordable housing, long waiting lists for subsidized units, and complicated application processes, Boston can be a daunting place to find a home for people with limited means. St. Francis House assists guests in many ways.

Johnson answers questions, guides guests through the housing application process and refers them to other resources. She also works with a grant program that disburses money to people who are able to pay rent, but need help with start-up housing costs. St. Francis House’s mental health clinicians and case managers help guests negotiate the obstacles — personal and practical— that stand between them and a home. And St. Francis House’s Next Step Housing Program provides once-homeless men and women with a single room, communal living areas and support services on the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth floors of its building. Soon, 48 units of affordable housing will open at 48 Boylston Street in the former home of the Boston Young Men’s Christian Union, co-developed by St. Francis House and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Helping New Tenants Over a Financial Hump

Don’t attempt to walk into St. Francis House in the early morning without saying “good morning” to Johnson, who has made herself a fixture at the front door. There, like a hotel concierge, she chitchats with guests, queries them about their needs and then directs them to the appropriate services in the building. She’s also on the lookout for people who may qualify for the Emergency Solutions Grant, the city grant program that helped put a roof over Ready’s head. This grant program targets people who have a regular income but lack the funds to pay for things like first and last months’ rent and security deposits.

Once guests are housed, Johnson launches people in their new homes with housing kits brimming with kitchen items, cleaning supplies, linens and the like. Also, she provides them with stabilization services—helping them problem-solve issues that come up after they move in and set goals such as saving money, going back to school or simply taking advantage of their new neighborhood’s offerings.

Supporting Guests In Myriad Ways

St. Francis House’s counseling and case management staff play a vital role in getting people housed and keeping them housed. Mental health clinician Corey Kane said that in addition to counseling guests, she also helps them with the logistics of applying for housing.

“People don’t realize how complex it is for our guests to get screened for affordable housing,” says Kane. “They have to present original copies of their vital documents, submit documentation showing their housing history for the last three to five years and submit to a criminal background check. I have never lived anywhere that the landlord wanted original copies of my birth certificate and social security card.”

Once clients are housed, Kane and other staff members work to problem-solve issues that might threaten tenancy.

And many continue to frequent St. Francis House even after they’re housed. “This is where they feel that they belong,” explains Kane. “They come for acknowledgment and companionship— the things many of us get from a job and family. This sense of belonging helps them stay housed.”

Providing an Affordable Home

For 56 men and women, most in recovery, St. Francis House is a house in the most literal sense. Next Step Housing Program residents live in single rooms and share each floor’s kitchen, lounge area with a big screen television and laundry facilities. Tenants can also use the gym and rooms that host arts and crafts, meditation groups and computers. Half of the program’s apartments are reserved for people with a disability—mental or physical.

Program manager Kim Kates says that every tenant has a case manager who can help with all sorts of issues—relapse, conflict with other tenants, for example, although residents run the gamut in terms of how much assistance they want or need. “Some people meet with us weekly and others can go weeks and weeks without seeing us,” she says. “

Kates explains that for some residents, moving into Next Step can be a difficult transition: “By the time they get here, they’ve had so many losses, so many doors shut in their faces, “ she says. “Because of substance abuse or incarceration, they’ve never had the chance to explore those losses, so we deal with a lot of anger and sadness.” Friendships, volunteering, recovery groups and reconnecting with family are all important parts of the healing process, according to Kates. “One of my biggest goals is to make sure that I and the other staff give people the message that they’re safe here and that they matter.”