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South Boston event offers housing, hope to homeless

Hope Daniels and HomeStart worker Gabrielle Vacheresse held hands Thursday at the “Housing Surge” event in South Boston. Daniels, who had been homeless, got an apartment through the event.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

It still hasn’t hit Tommy D. As of Thursday morning, he officially has a home address.

Before Christmas, the 51-year-old is expected to move into his new apartment.

It’s a one-bedroom in Charlestown, not far from family.

Here, for the first time in a long time, he’ll have a room he doesn’t share with four others.

For the first time in a long time, he’ll have a roof of his own over his head. He’s thinking about getting a dog. A Boston terrier. Tommy D. didn’t want to use his last name for fear of embarrassing his family. He said he spent 17 years on the street and in and out of shelters.


“Booze stole my spirit,” Tommy D. said. “Now, I’m getting it back.”

Thursday morning, he was one of 31 people who walked into the Labouré Center in South Boston homeless and walked out with an apartment from the Boston Housing Authority.

Ten more got vouchers for housing.

Raised in Dorchester, Tommy D., who’s sober now, preferred sleeping on cobblestone to shelters.In his new place,he’s going to cook simple meals. Maybe grilled cheese or hot dogs.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how I feel,” Tommy D. said.

“There’s no drug in the world that’s as strong as this high.”

Boston city officials call the event a “Housing Surge.” The title is appropriate. There was an energy, a humming throughout the morning as people began getting placed in new housing, vacant units the housing authority had set aside for the surge.

The one-stop shop began about 5:30 a.m.

“Since we started doing these, every organization is more energized than they were before,” said Sheila A. Dillon, chief of housing for the City of Boston.

Representatives from many key agencies filled rooms: MassHealth , the medical plan for low-income residents; the Social Security Administration; Catholic Charities; and the BostonHome Interfaith Collaborative, whose members volunteered at the event. What can take months was completed in hours as specialists helped eligible people fill out applications and collect paperwork. There were quiet rooms for private counseling.


“There’s almost nothing you can’t do here today,” said Emily Cooper, chief housing officer for the stateExecutive Office of Elder Affairs. “If you take advantage of everything here, you’re walking out with an apartment, services to support you in that apartment, food stamps, finding out about the resources in your community from elder service agencies, and a full belly. That is the goal.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s goal is to end chronic homelessness by 2018.

Walsh, who visited Thursday, said homes have been found for nearly 1,000 homeless people since 2014. The target population Thursday was the chronically homeless over the age of 50. An estimated 52 people showed up, and 41 left with housing of some kind. Eight others will likely get housing offers pending documentation.

“It’s not typical that you can walk in and that day leave with an address,” said Laila Bernstein, adviser to the mayor for the Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness.

Francisco Soberal, 51, walked in hoping for the best possible outcome. He hasbeen in and out of shelters for several years, he said. Originally from Puerto Rico, he was ready to have a place of his own. He wanted to invite friends from the island to visit him in Boston.


“It’s sad; it’s a hard life,” Soberal said in Spanish. “You have to be careful. I’ve kept warm with cardboard, and I’m cautious about strangers. You don’t feel safe. All the people here are in the same fight as I am. I wish them well. We’re all fighting to move forward with our lives.”

Though his faith in God taught him patience, depression still overwhelms him.

It took a few hours Thursday to move through the various stations in the building. Oscar Cartagena, housing placement specialist at the Pine Street Inn, a well-known haven for the homeless, expected Soberal to qualify for an apartment.

But Soberal would need to wait a little longer.

The man with the ruddy complexion tried to keep a smile on his face.

“Well,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day anyway. Not everyone’s luck is the same.”

Hope Daniels, 50, shuffled around the building in a bright red Santa hat that said “Naughty.”

It’s her favorite hat, and she wears it from November to January.

“It says naughty,” the grandmother said. “But I’m very good.”

She didn’t want to miss any opportunity. Gabrielle Vacheresse, housing search program manager with the nonprofit HomeStart, an organization that assists in finding permanent housing for the homeless, said Daniels is probably on every waiting list for housing in the city. The Dorchester woman with a bracelet that says “Back on my Feet” survived a brain tumor. She lost her hair. She was devastated after her mother’s passing a few years ago.


“I got good people backing me now. I didn’t care about nothing for months. Not clean clothes or washing up,” Daniels said. “I would’ve given up a long time ago if it weren’t for Gaby.”

Like Soberal, she waited for housing. Hope stayed hopeful.

“I got grandbabies that want to visit me,” Daniels said.

“I can’t have them come to see me at Pine Street.”

By the end of the day, Vacheresse said Daniels got placed in an apartment.

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.