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At Pine Street Inn shelter, a mother and daughter persevere and find community

Dawn Rich (left) and her mother, Viola Homan (right), became homeless more than a month ago. They were at a brunch at the Women’s Inn at Pine Street, where they have been staying. They hope to find a place to live together after leaving the Women's Inn.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

When Viola Homan, 76, and her daughter Dawn Rich, 48, came to the Pine Street Inn just over a month ago seeking shelter, they faced a new problem: The mother and daughter would no longer be able to gain comfort from sharing a bed, as they had done for years before while living together in Foxborough.

The duo had been homeless for about a year, bouncing around motels and other shelters before arriving at Pine Street’s Women’s Inn in the South End in April, which provides a place for 81 guests to stay each night while working to place women in permanent supportive housing. The two had been through everything together.


“I’m on the third floor and sleep in my own bed. We used to sleep in the same bed together,” Rich said. “It’s hard. I had to go buy a stuffed animal instead ... because I miss her sometimes when I’m up there alone.”

Homan and Rich have lived in a house together for the last 18 years, since Homan’s husband died in 2005.

“She’s my rock,” Rich said.

“We’ve got a great relationship, Dawn and I. We always have,” Homan said.

Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn, said Mother’s Day can be difficult for many guests, and mother-daughter duos who are unhoused can find it challenging to turn to organizations like Pine Street Inn for help after they have exhausted all other resources.

“We’ve had a number of mothers and daughters, and I’ve got to say, it’s very tough” Downie said, adding that many of the guests have lost or become estranged from their mothers and children.

Homan and Rich became homeless after their landlord died and the house they lived in was sold, leaving them five weeks notice to vacate the property.

“We’ve lost everything in the past year,” Rich said. “I wanted to give up — really give up. But because of my mom being here, I don’t want to give up.”


Rich, who sports a small cluster of tattoos on her left arm with names of lost loved ones, recounted the devastation at losing so much in one year: “All my furniture, my self esteem, my mind.” Most upsetting to her, though, was losing her cat and turtle. Rich loves animals, and is determined to learn to master public transit to visit the New England Aquarium and the Franklin Park Zoo.

Rich looks out for her mother, a fragile woman with long silver hair, who struggles with a heart condition and is still recovering from being assaulted by another patient while hospitalized in Brockton with pneumonia last month.

“[Dawn] got me right out of there within a day or two,” after another patient attacked Homan in her room, fracturing her jaw, Homan said. The pair then came to Boston for the first time, and found a safe and caring community at Pine Street Inn. “I’m walking now,” Homan said. “I’ve been going out now seven times a day. I’ll come out and sit down and talk to people.”

Other guests at the Women’s Inn see Homan as a maternal figure. Some refer to her as “Mom.”

“My mom’s not here anymore,” said Melissa Cobb, who has stayed at the Women’s Inn for two years. “My mom would have been her age, if she was still alive. I look at [Homan] like my mom.”


Rich and Homan joined other guests at the Inn for a springtime brunch Friday morning to celebrate the launch of capital improvements to the building, including updating 313 windows across the facility. The nonprofit continues to expand, and received approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency Thursday for a 99-unit housing for formerly homeless individuals.

Maureen Bleday, CEO of the Yawkey Foundation, which is responsible for helping fund the replacement of windows across the building, said capital projects help make Pine Street a dignified home for its guests.

“That mother and daughter have a chance now to build their lives back and stabilize it. It’s windows, it’s keeping a place for these people just to have some peace in their life and start to maybe move forward again,” Bleday said.

According to Rich, the camaraderie at Pine Street among guests is unlike what she and her mother have experienced at other shelters — they feel safer, and “people stick together, which is good,” Homan said.

The duo discussed plans for their first summer in Boston over croissants at the celebratory brunch. As she recovers, Homan wants to walk more, she said. Rich hopes to find a farmers market and visit Cobb in her new apartment, which she moves to in August, to bake bread. As for Mother’s Day, Homan and Rich say they’ll keep it low-key.

“My mother’s passed away and I miss her terrible,” Homan said. “I think about her all the time. So I’m just gonna take it easy for the day. Think about her.”


Sonel Cutler can be reached at sonel.cutler@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cutler_sonel.