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On the holiday menu: turkey and compassion

Nick Katsirubas rode his bike around the quiet streets of the South End on Thursday morning. With people at home celebrating Thanksgiving, most everything was closed.

But the Pine Street Inn shelter on Harrison Avenue, where Katsirubas has stayed for four months, bustled with city and state officials, who worked with staff and more than 100 volunteers to serve about 2,000 meals to the homeless.

“It’s our Super Bowl!” said one regular volunteer to another as residents sat down at long tables covered in white tablecloths. Each place setting featured a hand-decorated mat and a note by a volunteer.

Before the festivities, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, state Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, and Police Commissioner William B. Evans carved turkeys and split wishbones, and then joined a larger group of volunteers that included City Councilor Tito Jackson and grandchildren of the late mayor Thomas M. Menino.


“Every year I come, I find somebody working or volunteering here who was a guest here,” said Walsh, wearing a blue Pine Street Inn apron as he addressed the small crowd. “It happened again today.”

Walsh remarked on the volunteers’ ages, and the years they spanned, saying that getting the next generation involved in the fight to end homelessness is critical.

Those present included 10-year-old Suhasini Langohr and her parents, Jai Puthenveettil and Vickie Langohr. The Watertown family spent the holiday volunteering at Pine Street Inn.

“I think housing is a basic right,” Puthenveettil said. “There is also a social and economic argument. If people do not have housing, they incur a lot more costs [for the system] in other ways.”

Taking the floor after Walsh, Rosenberg quipped that he someday would like to live in a city in which the Pine Street Inn is out of business because Boston no longer has a problem with homelessness.


“We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. We have the third-highest per capita income. There is no better quality of life anywhere in the United States of America and in most of the world,” Rosenberg said. “And yet, we have people who are literally a paycheck away from unemployment and homelessness and even hopelessness.”

Pine Street Inn’s permanent housing is especially helpful, said Linda Morse of Brookline, a regular volunteer who has seen residents go from temporary housing to permanent.

“You give someone a room and a key, and it changes their life,” she said.

Katsirubas, now in his late 70s, said he had previously taught computer science. He said he became homeless after pipes burst in his South Boston apartment, sending up to 18 inches of water onto the floors and forcing him to throw out many of his belongings, he said.

“You actually mourn the loss of things,” he said. “Even though a part of me says, ‘Well, everything can be replaced.’ You’re talking about a hundred dollars here, two hundred there, another hundred here. It adds up.”

Katsirubas said the flooding, coupled with skyrocketing rent that reflects South Boston’s gentrification, forced him to turn to Pine Street Inn.

“Thank God that they’re here,” Katsirubas said. “The taxpayers and the funding agencies ought to be aware of the good that they do.”

Headley Sappleton, 61, said he found himself homeless after he lost his job, meaning he couldn’t pay his rent at a same time he was struggling with legal problems and IRS issues, he said.


It all snowballed, said Sappleton, who has been staying at the Pine Street Inn for a year and a half.

“What would I do if I did not have this alternative to rely on?” he asked.

Nicole Fleming can be reached at