Humanizing Homelessness: How Boston’s Haley House Builds Community

Boston’s South End and the nearby Roxbury neighborhood have long struggled with homelessness. The largest homeless populations in the city are found in these neighborhoods. Several local organizations strive to provide assistance to their vulnerable communities, but one program stands out with an unusual approach.

Instead of relying on volunteers or helpers to staff its soup kitchen, Haley House seeks people, of all ages and backgrounds, interested in investing two years of their lives to support lasting solutions to social problems. In return, they receive room and board, live “in community” above Haley House, manage their kitchen, and look after their guests.

why are we writing this

Homelessness and food insecurity don’t exist in a vacuum, which is why Boston’s Haley House staff doesn’t work in one, either. The organization’s internal model takes a holistic approach through empathy and community.

“The purpose of the resident community is to befriend those who come to the soup kitchen to develop relationships with them,” says Kathe McKenna, who co-founded Haley House in 1966 with her husband John.

Those connections have great benefits.

“Without this place I wouldn’t exist. These people are angels,” says Linda Bell, a regular at Haley House’s free morning breakfast.

Resident contestant Libby Federici feels the same way.

“The people I met here made me a better person. I feel very lucky and grateful,” she says.

Boston

Libby Federici loves her job at Haley House, a soup kitchen in Boston’s South End neighborhood. On a recent weekday morning, she was busy greeting guests, assisting volunteers, making fresh cups of coffee, and answering endless questions. Butter? We have tons. Cups? I’ll get some from the basement.

The guests, some of whom face homelessness or live in low-income housing, bask in its warmth.

“Without this place I wouldn’t exist. These people are angels. They are my guardian angels,” says Linda Bell, a regular at Haley House’s free morning breakfast. On a typical day, the soup kitchen hands out between 50 and 100 meals.

why are we writing this

Homelessness and food insecurity don’t exist in a vacuum, which is why Boston’s Haley House staff doesn’t work in one, either. The organization’s internal model takes a holistic approach through empathy and community.

That feeling of home and connection is intentional at Haley House, a program that for five decades has comprehensively addressed the social issues facing Boston’s South End through its soup kitchen, affordable housing, urban gardens and nutrition education programs. . The organization welcomes people facing homelessness and formerly incarcerated people as a valued part of the larger community. But instead of relying on volunteers or helpers for its soup kitchen staff, Haley House seeks people, of all ages and backgrounds, interested in investing two years of their lives to support lasting solutions to social problems. In return, they receive room and board, live “in community” above Haley House, manage their kitchen, and look after their guests.

“It’s really important to get to know people as people,” says Ms. Federici, who also works as an outreach and development assistant for the organization, as well as serving on its board of directors.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Haley House volunteers prepare breakfast for guests at the organization’s soup kitchen in Boston, on April 22, 2022. Six days a week, guests are treated to hearty meals made from scratch.

Boston’s South End and the nearby Roxbury neighborhood have long struggled with homelessness, even as the area has gentrified. The city’s largest homeless populations are in these neighborhoods, and community gatherings have increasingly sought to address transient populations swollen by an opioid crisis and global pandemic. Haley House isn’t the only effort trying to meet the needs of the homeless; the Pine Street Inn, for example, supports nearly 2,000 men and women every day; and St. Francis House welcomes 6,300 visitors a year and offers 102 affordable housing units.

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