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Pine Street Inn’s Lyndia Downie on the organization’s pivot from shelter to housing

Bold Types|Lyndia Downie
Produced by Anush Elbakyan/Globe Staff. Edited by Anush Elbakyan/Globe Staff, Camera work by Anush Elbakyan, Caitlin Healy, Shelby Lum/Globe Staff

This year, the Pine Street Inn celebrates five decades of serving Boston’s homeless population. Its president since 2000, Lyndia Downie, has devoted her entire career to the inn. Under her leadership, the city’s population of unsheltered homeless individuals has dropped to under 3 percent.

In an interview with the Globe’s Bold Types video series, Downie discusses the future of her organization and its pivot to focus on finding housing for its guests. She said the Pine Street Inn now has 40 sites that offer some kind of permanent housing, including a newly opened residence at 123 Hamilton St. in Dorchester.


Downie called these the “toughest times I’ve ever seen” in terms of helping people who are working to find housing because of the rising costs of the city’s residential market.

“When I first came here, a number of our guests could still rent a room in the South End, maybe, sometimes in the Back Bay, South Boston,” Downie said. “There actually was still affordable housing — there wasn’t a lot of it. We could help people get out, even if they weren’t making a lot of money, even if they had a low-wage job. That has really changed. The pressure on the market is intense.”

At their South End headquarters, which is in one of the city’s most rapidly changing neighborhoods, Downie discussed how the organization works with the surrounding communities on its buildings. The organization’s goal is to operate over 1,000 units of housing, and it is working with the city to raise $10 million in funds for that effort.

“You don’t get from one to building 40 by not being a good neighbor,” she said. “We cannot prevent everything, and we understand things happen. What I say to neighbors is that we will be responsive.”


But Downie said the toughest time in her tenure came several years ago, when the organization was facing financial issues because of a state funding crunch. She said that crisis helped her organization refocus, allowing Pine Street Inn to begin a pivotal transition.

“If we’re going to be about housing, everything we do has to be about leading people to housing,” she said. “We took a really hard look at every single program we had, and if we weren’t getting the outcomes in terms of housing outcomes, we said we’re not doing this anymore. Either the money shifts into housing outcomes, or someone else does it.”

Producers: Anush Elbakyan, Shira Center/Globe staff. Video Editor: Anush Elbakyan/Globe staff. Camera: Anush Elbakyan, Caitlin Healy, Shelby Lum/Globe staff.

Bold Types is a newsroom series presented by Koch Industries. The advertiser had no editorial role in the content production.