Letters to the Editor

My Continuing Journey

To the Editor,

Started in the late 60’s working as a nurse in the emergency room at the former Boston City Hospital, now known as the Boston Medical Center. As one who never knew a homeless person, I was suddenly surrounded by many, especially during the evening shift.  The homeless [all men], started arriving around 4 pm or so and waited for their “chit ‘, a piece of paper given to them so they would have a place to sleep at the Pine Street Inn located on Pine Street in Chinatown. They were transported there by the Boston police.

A few of us nurses, out of curiosity, trekked down to the homeless shelter to find out what was going on there night after night. We were met by the founder, Mr. Paul Sullivan, and given a tour of the sleeping quarters, showers, etc. We left content that this truly was a safe place for so many who would be sleeping in a doorway, sometimes in a dumpster or wherever they could find a safe place for the night.

Over the years, I found myself working at the “mecca”, also known as the Mass General Hospital. After spending almost two decades there, a former colleague invited me to visit the Pine Street Inn (PSI), now located on Harrison Avenue in the South End. As I was walking down the alleyway to the front door, she turned to me and said, “Now don’t run away.” I thought, hmm, what am I getting myself into?

As it so happened, I didn’t run away but my journey continued. For the next decade, I worked at the PSI, a place I found both sad and gratifying. Sad due to the many folks who fell on hard times for many reasons, ended up homeless and at the PSI. The “guests” were always so appreciative of whatever little kindness and help that was shown and offered to them at the Inn. I can truly say that was my best job in my nursing career.

Gratifying because of this welcoming shelter, with the many caring staff, dedicated volunteers, as a place where one could be treated with dignity, help and respect. One could not be brought down by all the difficult, life stories shared but uplifted and humbled that the guests were able and willing to pour out their struggles to someone, willing to listen.

With that being said, after leaving the Pine Street Inn to start a business, I was grateful to work in flu clinics for the homeless and soup kitchens, as my journey continued. I was privileged once again to converse and reconnect with some of my former homeless “guests” who now safely lived in their own home, a blessing.

On another note, the Pine Street Inn, since 1984 has created over 850 housing units in Boston and Brookline for the homeless, their goal is to have over 1000 more units this Spring. This is transformative for those who never know where they would find a place to sleep for the night.

As I read about the controversy surrounding the Independence Inn, I can only hope that we will eventually welcome new neighbors, formerly homeless, challenged individuals to the Navy Yard. People who deserve a place to live with dignity and respect. I applaud the proponents for their efforts to take care of those in need of a place to call their own.   

Lastly, I think about a shelter guest, Alan (not his real name), who spent each night in a dumpster in South Boston, he was grateful that he had a place to call his own. He was most appreciative that he could stop by the Inn for a meal, a pair of socks, but most importantly, someone who listened to his stories, as he always had some unusual and interesting encounters as he walked the streets every day.

This life – changing journey continues and I am in a better place but always remind myself “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”  

Ann Kelleher

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