Park’s annual Chop-a-thon is the latest of many traditions to be reimagined in the wake of COVID-19. During the first week of March, instead of providing hundreds of pounds of chopped vegetables to Pine Street Inn, Park families and members of the faculty & staff gathered an amazing assortment of home goods to assemble over 30 ‘Welcome Home Baskets’ for Pine Street.
All together, we collected important items such as sheets and towels, mops and cleaning supplies, shower curtains, kitchen essentials, and lamps to ensure an easier transition as guests and tenants move into their own spaces and take a transformative next step in their lives. The baskets of supplies, along with over $1,300 in gift cards to grocery stores and Target, will be given to people transitioning from Pine Street Inn’s shelters into permanent housing.
Pine Street Inn, headquartered on Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End neighborhood, began in 1969 with the mission of providing “a hot and a cot.” The organization now has four shelters with a total of 670 beds and serves over 2,800 meals a day to individuals experiencing homelessness. It has expanded to include job skills training and transitional programs geared towards helping people find permanent housing. About 160 people participate in Pine Street Inn’s workforce development programs each year.[i] Pine Street Inn is the only organization in Boston that provides nightly street outreach. Their vans traverse the city between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. providing clothing, food, and blankets while building trust with individuals who have chosen not to come into the shelter.
Pine Street Inn by the Numbers
35 housing locations and 4 shelters
850 units of permanent supportive housing
97% retention rate after one year in Pine Street housing
1,164 individuals moved into a variety of housing options
33,000+ volunteer hours annually
Pine Street Inn has emphasized a culture of respect since its founding. Co-founder Paul Sullivan began the tradition of referring to anyone seeking shelter as a guest of the inn. This language was, and remains, important in de-stigmatizing homelessness. In 2019, Lyndia Downie, Pine Street’s Executive Director told the Boston Herald that the stigma of homelessness is still a driving factor preventing change.[ii]
Many people end up at shelters like Pine Street Inn because they’ve lost a job and were just a paycheck away from making rent. A personal health crisis can also lead to homelessness – sometimes an individual had health insurance through an employer, but may be unable to work while recovering from a serious illness or injury. The resulting unemployment then deprives them of healthcare when they need it most. Unemployment related to COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue in an area that already lacked enough affordable housing.
The United Way reminds us that language matters when we speak with children about homelessness. “Being homeless is a situation, not a label. Even the semantics of ‘people who are homeless’ vs. ‘homeless people’ make a difference.”[iii] The same advice applies if a child asks about the frequently associated issue of substance use; the National Institute of Health has a helpful sheet of recommended terms to use when speaking about addiction.
Not only does the PA’s outreach directly benefit residents of Pine Street Inn, but it offers an opportunity to engage Park students in this vital conversation, challenging stigmas associated with homelessness. It’s a chance to encourage children to think about all the prerequisites an individual needs in order to be able to afford housing or healthcare or obtain employment. Job applications usually ask for an address, and a security deposit and first and last month’s rent are often necessary to move into an apartment. From affordable housing and job availability to childcare and our mental health care system, there are many fundamental long term factors to be addressed as we seek sustainable solutions to homelessness. The more we educate our children about these complex underlying causes and cycles, the better they will be prepared to work toward a future that addresses them.
Our family enjoyed the new Park Community Service event and while it didn’t offer the same camaraderie – and knife danger! – as the Chop-a-thon, it did offer a different perspective on Pine Street Inn’s work and, in many ways, allowed our children a different perspective on what it means to be homeless. With a list of needed essentials that included everything from a shower liner to a can opener, kids could think about everything that goes into having a home and what it means not to have one. For our youngest daughter it was a nice companion to Park’s needs vs wants curriculum. We welcomed the opportunity to support Pine Street Inn, to have conversation as a family about homelessness, and we are grateful to the Parents’ Association.
– Liz Morningstar (P ’28 and ’25)
Thank you to all the volunteers and donors who have helped Park provide Welcome Home Baskets. These essential items will help people turn their new housing into a home. This video from Pine Street Inn about the Welcome Home Baskets is a great one to watch with your children!
Special thanks to Susan Boney, Lars Liebisch, and Maria Fernandez for organizing the drive, grade captains: Astrid and Tommy Burns, Eliza Quincy, Maribel Zatarain-Ortega, Leigh Kempinski, Edward Lee, Megan Zug, Sarah Rosenberg Scott, Rebecca Forkner, Ann LeBrun Rothman, Ami Cippola, Jessica Scherer and Jenn Krebs, as well as Mina Roustaei and the Facilities Team for their help with collection logistics!