The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

St. Francis House serves more guests amid record-high homelessness, food insecurity

Zoe MacDiarmid
Gurleen Anand poses with one of her art projects. Anand has overseen the St. Francis House art therapy room for three years, giving guests project ideas and assistance.

For this year’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Nov. 11 to 18, local homeless shelter St. Francis House surpassed its $10,000 goal during its new “Sheltering Hope” campaign while continuing to serve meals to up to 500 guests a day. This is an increase compared to years prior, said Valerie Harrison, marketing and communications coordinator.

St. Francis House traditionally holds an in-person gala, “All the Way Home.” This year, the organization replaced that with “Sheltering Hope,” which used social media to raise awareness and draw in donations, said Raul Guliev, a temporary development operations associate. 

“Just a few weeks ago, we saw one of the busiest days in our 39-year history,” said Karen LaFrazia, president and CEO of St. Francis House, in a press release.

St. Francis House, founded in 1984, quickly grew from a bread line to a staffed organization. Since its founding, they have received national attention for their organization, completed many facility renovations and introduced programs and services. St. Francis House serves breakfast and lunch 365 days a year, which is carried out by a staff of volunteers. 

This time last year, St. Francis House was serving about 400 guests a day, Harrison said. Boston currently faces increased levels of homelessness compared to 2022 and in that year, one in three households in the state faced food insecurity, according to Massachusetts shelters hit their capacity of 7,500 families Nov. 9, but state legislators failed to reach an agreement on a spending bill that would allocate $250 million towards shelters and creating overflow housing. 

“We’re stressing that we’re seeing an increase in the number of people walking through our doors each day, therefore we have to kind of expand on our services to accommodate that increase,” Harrison said. 

The kitchen at St. Francis House. The shelter has served 218,000 meals so far this year. (Zoe MacDiarmid)

In 2023, St. Francis House provided 102 permanent housing units to people experiencing homelessness. The Residential Housing Services Program occupies four floors of their building at 39 Boylston St. Across the street are administrative offices, as well as additional housing units, dubbed “The Union.” 

“Twenty-six of the units are reserved for individuals earning less than 30% of the area median income,” according to St. Francis House’s website. More housing units are underway in the Charlestown Navy Yard as part of a controversial collaboration between three non-profits to create “The Helm on Third.” 

Unlike other shelters, St. Francis House does not turn away anyone in active addiction. The focus of St. Francis House is “[meeting] the guests where they’re at” and providing a stepping stone to get them into another housing situation, Harrison said. 

One of their most popular programs is The Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program, or MAP. MAP “is a 14-week job and life-skills training program introduced in 1995 for individuals who have experienced homelessness,” according to the St. Francis House website. Students of the program identify career goals, build a resume, conduct mock job interviews and receive professional clothes to wear to interviews. 

Harrison said that a mother and daughter are two of the recovery program and MAP’s recent graduates and a success story for St. Francis House. 

“They were a super outgoing, big personality kind of duo. And went through a lot together, experienced addiction together,” Harrison said. “They both came here and found our recovery program and our MAP program, and they joined the same class and they graduated together. And now [they’re] living in their own apartment together.”

Much of the services provided by St. Francis House are volunteer-led, including daily hot meals. In 2023, 218,000 meals were served, according to a press release. Moreover, the house’s art therapy room is a popular attraction for guests. 

The room is covered in guests’ work from floor to ceiling. In the quiet and warmth of the art room, Bruce Berzin, a volunteer since 2016, said it’s a place where “you can’t make a mistake.” 

Guests “get to know each other,” Berzin said. “And they get to express themselves in ways that they normally wouldn’t be.”

Gurleen Anand, who has overseen the art room for three years, provides project ideas to guests. This winter, she will use yarn, which is popular during colder months because it keeps guests hands’ warm, she said. Regardless of the project, everyone is granted the opportunity to work independently and without question, Anand said.  

In the art room, “guests try to introspect. They try to figure out what they’re looking for,” she said. “I wish we all had more compassion. What if I was in their shoes? I just cannot think of not sleeping in my bed. I just cannot think of not having my comforter … and still these guests are so graceful.”

The house accepts donations yearound on their website and has many volunteer opportunities. 

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