In Bowdoin-Geneva, hope for the homeless and the neighborhood

Derry Washington says when he first saw his new studio apartment in the Bowdoin-Geneva section of Dorchester “his eyes popped out of his head.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” the 58-year-old Washington said Wednesday after a tour of his new home.

Washington, who spent the last four years at the Shattuck Shelter in Jamaica Plain, is settling into a new home in an old convent on Bowdoin Street. From his fourth-floor unit, Washington takes in the view of St. Peter Parish, a comfortable new bed, and the neighborhood calm.

For the man and for the neighborhood, it is about rebirth and second chances.


On Wednesday, Washington’s new home was officially introduced to the neighborhood, which has endured years of violence and privation amid fitful campaigns to spark a renaissance. Pine Street Inn, which runs the residence, hosted an opening celebration.

The building, named St. Peter’s, has 32 studio apartments, all but one of which are for homeless men and women.

The property is representative of Pine Street’s efforts to shift from focusing on emergency shelter services.

“It’s really the focus on permanent, supportive housing, which is better for the individuals who are going to be living here,” said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“It’s also more cost-effective in the long run for the taxpayer, and it gives much better outcomes in terms of people being able to gain employment and get access the services they may need,” he said.

Pine Street now manages more permanent housing than emergency shelter beds — a milestone reached last year — at 37 locations in Boston and Brookline, said Lyndia Downie, the nonprofit organization’s president.

“We’re now about 56 percent housing to 44 percent shelter. When we started, we were 28 percent housing, 72 percent shelter,” Downie said.


She said Pine Street orchestrated the change by concentrating on the chronically homeless. At its Men’s Inn, for example, the agency said, it was a small number of men who stayed five months or more.

“We targeted the 5 percent of people who take up 53 percent . . . of the bed nights in shelter,” Downie said.

Pine Street collaborated with Trinity Green Development LLC in Milton on the convent project. Company officials said they purchased the property several years ago, and spent $3 million on a top-to-bottom rehabilitation, building studio apartments that fit Pine Street’s specifications.

Pine Street pays about $32,000 monthly in rent, said Thomas G. Broderick Jr., a principal with Trinity Green Development.

The agency, in turn, leases the units to residents, who pay 30 percent of their monthly income in rent. The remaining rental costs are covered by city, state, and federal funding.

Jan Griffin, Pine Street’s director of program planning, said the location is a good fit for people leaving life in a homeless shelter. The walkable neighborhood is close to a health center and public transportation, and boasts nearby small businesses.

“It’s sort of all the things that we look for in a site for housing for people who are extremely low income and coming out of homelessness,” Griffin said.

The new units have private bathrooms, and kitchenettes equipped with a microwave and two burners. Bob’s Discount Furniture donated the furnishings, and individual donors provided household goods such as silverware and towels.

A case manager and house manager are on staff to assist residents.


Washington, who moved in last week, said he’s enjoying new freedoms. He said his goal is to stay here and “never go back to a shelter.”

“It’s completely different,” Washington said.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com.