UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Inn of Opportunity

Wrapped in a thin, ragged blanket covered with holes that lets the coldest air come in, a man huddled in its limited warmth, curls up for the night outside on a step of Boston. Headlights of a van pull up and spot this homeless man asleep on the cold concrete step. A volunteer from the Pine Street Inn steps out of the van, wakes the man, and drives him to a warm spot to stay for the night.

We have all past them on the streets; the unfortunate, the ones who have fallen through the harsh cracks of society, the ones who just need a second chance. One might wonder where do these unfortunate go at night? The answer: 444 Harrison Avenue, Boston, The Pine Street Inn.

Jeff Hitp, who is the Communications Officer for the Pine Street Inn explains how one of the largest homeless shelters in the state was born. “The Pine Street Inn was founded back in 1969. It started with a group of Catholic Priest who wanted to provide a place for men to stay at night. They provided a hot cup coffee and beds for 200 men.”

Since 1969 the Pine Street Inn has flourished, as today they take in men and women, have 29 permanent housing programs through out Boston, over 4,000 volunteers and a variety of programs that help the homeless get back on their feet. There are programs for older men and women, programs for pregnant women and beyond the emergency shelter there are programs in the transitional shelters that help men find jobs.

Those who suffer from substance abuse can also seek help at The Pine Street Inn, where they are guided through the tough process of becoming sober.

Yet, in order to take advantage of Pine Street’s programs, one firsts needs to get a bed. It’s a process that should make the people who have a guaranteed place to sleep every night, thankful. “The easiest way to get a bed is to meet with a case manager who can get an idea of ones needs,” Hitp explains.

There are two main ways that the homeless can get a bed at the Pine Street Inn. One way is to meet with one of their many case managers who will guide one through this tough process. Another way is to enter their name in for the Pine Street lottery. As Hitp explains, “We start taking names for the lottery around three p.m. People write their names on a piece of paper then wait with the rest of the group outside to see if their names are drawn. We draw until the rest of our available beds are given away.”

Instead of just leaving the unlucky homeless, who names weren’t drawn, out on the street, Pine Street works with a variety of other shelters who have extra beds. Hitp explains, “The rest of the homeless whose names weren’t draw are put on a bus and brought to another one of our shelters across the city.” During the cold spells Pine Street makes sure to set up extra cots in their lobby in order to greater guarantee everyone a warm place to sleep.

Most shelters only allow the sober to stay and reject people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Pine Street doesn’t follow these rules. Hitp said, “Here at Pine Street you don’t have to be sober. We will help you not matter what state you’re in.”

The 29 permanent houses that Pine Street has available throughout the city allow for one to get out of the stressful shelter scene. “The waitlist for the houses is around 200 people. One has to pay a third of their income for rent,” said Hitp. The Inn is best known for emergency treatment yet makes these houses available for people seeking long term help. “Last year all the programs that we have through out the city served 10,000 people,” said Hitp. Today it is estimated that there is a total number of 7,000 homeless in Boston.

Even though the homeless one might encounter on the streets of Boston have a rough around the edges appearance due to years of living on the street, , Hitp tells us that these types of people aren’t what make up the majority of the homeless. “Most people think that a typical homeless person is one who is rugged and has a beard. Actually most of the homeless are just going through an episode of homelessness.”

It’s a stereotype that is easy to believe: the poor are homeless because they have a drug or substance abuse problem. Yet, Hitp explains that for most homeless people who come in the shelter, this is not the case. “It is a combination of issues that make one homeless. Job loss, substance abuse can be part of it, for women it can be abuse, relationship issues, or mental illnesses.”

The permanent residents at Pine Street come and go as they please. The others who come in through the lottery are given dinner and an early breakfast and are asked to leave during the day. Unlike the CASPER (Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Rehabilitation) shelter that is located in Cambridge who only excepts the homeless from their neighboring towns, Pine Street takes in the homeless, no matter where they are from. “Pine Street is not planning on any movements towards that model that is selective, such as CASPAR’s.”

As one may pass a homeless person curled up on the street and question how they stay out in the cold all night, most likely the Pine Street vans will be there to the rescue. Pine Street is one of the only shelters that has what is called a Street Outreach program that runs all throughout the night. “Since 1986 teams go out in the night in two vans and gather the homeless on the streets of Boston. The team try to build trust with these people by giving them a safe and warm place to stay,” said Hitp.

Of course living in a shelter, like the Pine Street Inn, is the last resort for most people. “Usually, when one becomes homeless, they spend the first two weeks sleeping on family or friend’s couches. Once they have hit their last couch then they come to the shelter. They don’t want to be in a shelter but they have exhausted every choice. We are there to welcome with open arms during this tough point in their life,” said Hitp.

With the economy the way it is Hitp says they haven’t seen a lot more people walk through the Pine Street doors but he said that more people will eventually come. “During these times where this country has just entered a recession, people are still using their other options. Once people have hit their last couch, we will probably see a more people come to our doors for help.”

The Pine Street Inn used to have their doors open all day and night for the homeless. Due to budget cuts, their doors can only be open at night and early morning for those who aren’t permanent residents. “We get most of our funding from donations from organizations, businesses, religious groups and other private organizations,” said Hitp.

During this cold, yet giving time of the season, it’s comforting to know that the homeless will not be forgotten in these long winter months. The Pine Street Inn does more then just supply warm beds. They reach out to people, help them get sober, find jobs, find a place that one can call home. Sometimes life happens and when it does its great to know that others will be there to help.