When residents move in to the new Troy Boston apartments in the South End, where two-bedrooms top out at $4,666 a month, a slew of gifts from local organizations await them. Ceramic measuring cups from a high-end home furnishings store. Tickets to the Boston Ballet. And a plastic colander packed with chocolate chip cookies from the homeless shelter across the street.
An inkling, perhaps, of something new in the city, at the corner of have and have not.
The gift from the Pine Street Inn is part of the shelter’s attempt to reach out to — and reassure — the flood of well-heeled people moving into the area about the roughly 500 homeless men and women living in their midst. It’s a welcome wagon of sorts, from the neighbors, and another world.
Gentrification has been closing in on the shelter for years. Restaurants and galleries encroached from one side, luxury condominiums crept in from another. Now, with a Whole Foods and several high-end residences opening in one of the last undeveloped pockets in the area, potentially adding more than 1,000 new residents in the next few years, the shelter is almost completely surrounded by upscale developments.
The contrast can be stark.
On a sunny afternoon last week, a glassy-eyed man and a woman missing several teeth sat on the curb between the shelter and the Mobil gas station — just across East Berkeley Street from the posh Troy Boston development, where leather couches and gas fireplaces populate the lobby. Professionals with heaping Whole Foods salads and bottled water strolled down the sidewalk.
With a fixed-rate 99-year lease from the Boston Housing Authority on its main shelter building, Pine Street Inn isn’t going anywhere soon. So it’s trying to build good neighborly relations. In addition to the welcome baskets, the shelter has set up a special ringtone for locals who call the front desk, giving staff a greater ability to track problems affecting the neighborhood. Shelter officials are inviting property and retail managers in for tours, and planning to visit new apartment complexes to meet with tenants.
For the past few years, a Pine Street facilities crew has been going out into the surrounding area early every weekday morning to pick up trash.Last year, the shelter hired its first security director, a retired Abington police officer who attends community meetings and responds to reports if shelter guests act out in the neighborhood.
“People are afraid of things they don’t know,” Pine Street executive director Lyndia Downie said. “I get, walking by this, why it could look scary from the outside. It’s down this alley; it’s a big building. Oftentimes, when people come in and they talk to the guests, and they see it, it just takes some of that away.”
Still, some tension seems inevitable.
Chris Johnson, who has lived near the shelter for eight years, said he occasionally sees people who are drunk or high or passed out on the sidewalk, and noted that shelter representatives have been known to get “an earful” at neighborhood association meetings about guests loitering at a nearby park.
So far, Pine Street is not aware of any complaints from the new neighbors. But its director is prepared, especially as more shelter guests head outside. “It’s early,” Downie said. “And it’s not that warm yet.”
Out on the sidewalk by the shelter Wednesday, Elvin Berrios and Mohamed Adam were smoking cigarettes during a break from a job training program at Pine Street. Both men said they became homeless just over a year ago when they lost their jobs. While they are not opposed to all the “high-class people” in the area, they noted it is giving the neighborhood a different vibe. “This guy,” Adam said, gesturing to a hypothetical poor person, “he cannot afford to buy anything here.”
Property managers say it’s no secret that there’s a homeless shelter in the midst of their outdoor pools and rooftop terraces, but it’s not a selling point.
“It’s definitely not something that we’re overly vocal about,” said Kathleen Leito, part of the Troy property management team.
At the nearby Ink Block development, where apartments rent for up to $6,000 a month, Stephen Sherman and his wife have begun to settle into their modern corner unit with a wall of windows facing downtown. The homeless shelter was not a factor in their decision to move here, said Sherman, 35, a real estate agent with a Boston terrier puppy named Oprah. What was a factor: the proximity to his job in the Back Bay and restaurants in the South End, garage parking, and a concierge in the lobby.
Sherman acknowledged the irony of a homeless shelter giving gifts to greet its upscale neighbors: “It seems backward.”
But the way Downie sees it, it’s a step forward.
“For a long time, we were reacting,” she said. “We’re trying to be more proactive.”
When the Pine Street Inn moved from its namesake address in Chinatown into its Harrison Avenue location, the site of the old Boston Fire Department headquarters, in 1980, it was no man’s land. There were few residences, and its closest neighbors were a laundry, a transmission shop, and the expressway.
But as more art galleries and restaurants popped up — and condo property values more than quadrupled in less than 20 years, according to Zillow, the online realty company — more people moved in.
As it has changed, Barbara Spears, a longtime South End real estate agent, said she has encountered people who don’t want to live close to a homeless shelter, or be hemmed in by highways, for that matter, but they are far outnumbered by people eager to move into the up-and-coming area. Indeed, Ink Block has rented more than half of its 315 apartments since opening at the end of January, and sold all but one of 83 condos, which range from $500,000 to $2 million.
If an Olympic stadium is built just on the other side of Interstate 93, as is proposed, the neighborhood is bound to get even hotter.
New arrivals are doing their part to keep relations warm. Whole Foods department heads spent a morning chopping vegetables at Pine Street before the store opened, and they donated part of the opening day proceeds to the shelter. Ink Block purchased cutting boards made by Pine Street job trainees as gifts for new residents and is hosting a shelter fund-raiser. Troy is also considering giving cutting boards as welcome gifts and is planning a socks and underwear drive.
People who want to live in this part of the South End don’t want a homogenous neighborhood, Ink Block developer Ted Tye said. The buildings on the former site of the Boston Herald, abutting the interstate, reflect the area’s industrial roots, with a mail room made out of a metal shipping container and spray-painted apartment numbers.
“Our corner of the South End has some grittiness to it,” Tye said. “You can either turn your back on it or you can embrace it.”