Life is always challenging, unpredictable, and chaotic for those without the stability and security of a home. Add in a pandemic, and life becomes almost impossible. At Pine Street Inn, our population of vulnerable men and women don’t have a space of their own where they can quarantine or isolate. Many also have underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk for mental health issues that make it difficult to cope with the confusion around them.
I have watched our staff assure frightened guests we will help them get through this, while they were deeply concerned about their own health and their families. They represent the definition of courage: being afraid but moving ahead despite the fear.
Like other tireless workers at shelters across the nation, our amazing front-line staff have unfailingly stood by our guests and tenants. Some did not see their family for over a month; some have worked double shifts week after week; and others made sure all of our tenants had food and resources to get through this pandemic. A number of staff became ill themselves, but they returned. Our kitchen workers have not missed serving up a meal; our housekeeping crew has made sure that the shelters are spotless.
Early on, one of our guests — 87 years old, frail, with a variety of health issues — tested positive. As he left for medical assistance, our staff were in tears, thinking they would never see him again. A few weeks later, he returned, saying, “I’m stronger than I look!” That brought the staff to tears again.
We have seen an outpouring of generosity from the community. Mayor Walsh and the city have worked with us every step of the way, securing space for social distancing and quarantine, unwavering in [their] support of our most vulnerable residents.
I have often said working with the staff at Pine Street is the greatest honor of my life. I have never believed that more than I do now. Their example makes me even more committed to finding a home for every person we work with and to pursuing our dream of a dignified life for all homeless men and women in Boston.
Lyndia Downie is the president and executive director of Pine Street Inn.