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O’Malley visits Pine Street Inn as homeless men pack shelter

Seven year old Rocco Coletti, along with his brother David, served pie to the clients at the Pine Street Inn.
Seven year old Rocco Coletti, along with his brother David, served pie to the clients at the Pine Street Inn. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe Staff

The temperature outside the Pine Street Inn climbed to shirtsleeve levels Thursday, but the balmy weather did not thin the crush of homeless men inside the shelter’s South End headquarters.

About 500 men have been using the shelter each night, approximately the same number that would seek refuge if the temperature were below freezing, staff members said. That figure includes an average of 100 men who sleep on cots and mats because the beds are full.

“We’re seeing what we would normally see if this were really cold,” said Barbara Trevisan, a spokeswoman for the shelter. “That’s the unfortunate reality, that there’s a need. These are people who are still suffering.”

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That suffering eased a bit on Thursday, as the Pine Street Inn served Christmas Eve meals to more than 1,400 men and women at its network of facilities in Boston. At the South End men’s shelter, Cardinal Sean O’Malley delivered plates of ham, sweet potato, and other vegetables at a U-shaped table that held more than 100 men at each of several sittings.

“Bless our food and our fellowship,” O’Malley said as he led the men in prayer.

Lyndia Downie, the president of Pine Street Inn, said the city’s decision to close the Long Island shelter last year appears to have contributed to the large number of needy people — even on summer-like days — who use Pine Street and other homeless facilities.

A new city shelter on Southampton Street has helped absorb many people who had used Long Island, which was closed in October 2014 after city officials condemned the bridge leading there. But the need continues.

Kevin Pino, a 52-year-old man who has been homeless for several years, said the demand for the shelter is high because many of the homeless are preparing for colder days. “They know, sooner or later, that the weather will change — and fast,” Pino said.

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At the Pine Street Inn, the overflow means that cots and mats are being used in the same large room where volunteers on Thursday served meals topped off with pumpkin pie. “We can’t wave a magic wand and make you not homeless, but we can do something,” Downie said.

Overall, the Pine Street system serves an estimated 1,600 people a day — nearly 9,000 men and women annually — at 45 locations throughout Greater Boston.

Ronald Goodridge is one of the men and women reaping the benefits. After he left prison in 2012, Goodridge said, he struggled to piece his life together. But within weeks, he plans to move into an apartment in Dorchester.

As busy as the shelter was Thursday, Goodridge said the warmth probably kept the numbers from rising higher.

“If this was a real New England December, this place would probably be more packed,” Goodridge said. “There wouldn’t be enough seats in here.”

As Goodridge finished his meal, even in a place for those without a home, the 61-year-old spoke of gratitude for where his life has led. “This day is a representation of all the goodness that has happened to me,” Goodridge said.

Part of that goodness was spread by 7-year-old Rocco Coletti, a first-grader who joined 150 volunteers who served and prepared meals throughout the Pine Street network. Coletti had given the shelter $10 of his allowance, money that he had collected because of his excellent marks on spelling tests.

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When asked why he had been so generous, Rocco didn’t hesitate.

“It’s because,” he said, “I wanted to help them get home.”


Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.