Nobody in Harvard Square will ever forget the April afternoon that Dennis Coveney and his fiancée, Kelly, tied the knot in the pouring rain on a Brattle Street sidewalk, an event like none other.
Dennis had been the longtime ringleader of the “Chair Club,” that somewhat motley collection of locals who gathered in cold and warmth to watch the Red Sox on the big screen television that Frances Cardullo had placed in the front window of her family gourmet shop. Kelly showed up one night, and the rest is legend.
Their wedding was a squarewide celebration. The Charles Hotel and the Inn at Harvard donated overnight stays. Bertucci’s sent down a food platter. Petali Flowers provided the arrangements. Cardullo’s poured champagne. The Grafton Street restaurant baked a cake.
Dennis donned the tuxedo he sometimes wore for chauffeur jobs, and Kelly bought a wedding dress online. The Cambridge police commissioner gave Kelly, then an auxiliary officer, away.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen at the Burlington Mall or the South Shore Plaza, where the vice president of bureaucracy would send a rejection from his Indiana office. But Harvard Square is, well, different.
In Harvard Square, Dennis has been a fixture for many, many years, the quiet handyman who washes windows at Black Ink or Curious George, who shows up before dawn to set up Oktoberfest and Mayfair celebrations, who knows every street, every shortcut, every T stop when he delivers beautiful bouquets for Petali.
“I’ll give him a $250 arrangement filled with water, and he’ll get it there without spilling a drop,” said John Selletto, the Petali owner.
He picked up $25 here, $50 there, always looking for work, never seeking a handout, the whole time living in a simple room at the YMCA. His marriage was a seismic deal.
“The whole community created a wedding,” said Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association. “They really are beloved.”
That was in 2009. Dennis moved out of the Y. The couple rented an apartment in Arlington. Everyone expected them to live happily ever after. Except that happy rarely lasts that long, not these days.
Two winters ago, they found themselves on the street. Dennis said the owner of their apartment wanted to sell the building, so they left voluntarily, even though they had nowhere to go. Dennis worked as hard and as often as he could. Kelly had lost her job with a book dealer, battled emotional issues, and was producing macramé that she sold in front of the Harvard Coop.
The couple slept, night after night, month after month, on the stoop of a Brattle Street storefront.
Jillson has worked the phones constantly in search of shelter, but she is finding a Byzantine web of social service agencies struggling with a safety net that, as my colleague Yvonne Abraham has vividly pointed out, is far beyond frayed.
There is no shelter space that will take a married couple, Jillson has learned, and Dennis and Kelly would rather sleep outdoors than sleep apart. They are so far down the list for subsidized housing that their names will probably never come up.
So a year of living outside has turned into two. Two winters are about to become three.
Business owners have rallied as best they can, giving Dennis whatever work they have. One businessman, who wants to remain anonymous, recently told Jillson he’ll pay $1,000 a month toward rent if they can find a place to live. The apartment search goes on.
“I get so much support,” Dennis told me on Mass. Ave recently, unfazed. “I know everyone in the square.”
He and Kelly shower in a nearby yoga studio. They stop by friends’ apartments to get warm. They neither smoke nor drink and miss their three cats.
It’s a story meant to have a happier ending. But right now, for Dennis and Kelly, it’s about to get cold all over again.