What it’s like to be homeless during the holidays?
Across Massachusetts, thousands of people typically find themselves homeless during the Christmas holiday. These include single adults, mothers with young children, people struggling with addiction. At shelters in Boston this weekend, residents described their hopes for a better year ahead — and gratitude for the help they have received.
Rosie’s Place feels like family
Angela J. found herself homeless on Christmas Day, but amid the jewelry, scarves, hats, gloves, toiletries, purses, and bags — all presents donated by the community — she could have been forgiven for forgetting that fact, at least temporarily.
“You know that you’re in a homeless situation, transition, but it doesn’t feel that way,” Angela said.
A guest at Rosie’s Place, Angela, 48, spent Christmas Day at the nation’s oldest shelter for women.
Sporting a purple dress topped with a floral blouse, hues of blue and purple splashed on her shirt, and gemstones shining brightly on her left shoulder, she sat on the couch in a sitting area and called the shelter a “lighthouse.”
Angela and her family were evicted in 2014 when their landlord, who was selling the house, wanted to make repairs. She suffers from psoriasis, asthma, migraine headaches, depression, high blood pressure, and Stage 3 kidney disease.
This Christmas marks her third stay at Rosie’s Place, which allows guests to stay for up to three weeks.
“The people that I’ve met here, on this journey, have become my family and also friends as I go through the process of being homeless,” she said.
-- Aimee Ortiz, Globe Staff
Even at shelter, he’s ‘always felt lucky’
Samuel R. spent more than 20 years as a truck driver before a back injury ended his career and left him without a steady income.
“I’ve always been used to making money, so it makes you feel bad not having anywhere to go in the morning. Now, when I wake up, I don’t have anything to do but lay around here,” he said, sitting at the Pine Street Inn, where he has lived since June.
Samuel, 69, returned to Boston this summer from Georgia, where he had been living with his sister for several months. Before that, he lived in Dorchester, but he left when his landlord sold the building and raised the rent.
This was the first Christmas that Samuel spent at a shelter, but he said he tries to stay optimistic.
“I’ve always felt lucky,” he said. “I’ve always had a good life, even when I’m living here.”
He wants to move back to Georgia in a couple of months and looks forward to living closer to his children, grandchildren, and 13 brothers and sisters.
“It’s just tiring being in here,” he said. “It’s not bad if you have somewhere you’re going soon, but if you have no place to go, it’s bad.”
For Samuel, Christmas has never been a major celebration, but it’s a reason for his large family to come together each year.
And by next Christmas, he hopes to be back with family, maybe even in his own home.
“Next year, I’ll have my own home,” he said, nodding his head, with a smile. “I’ve been saving money. I’m looking at it with a good attitude.”
-- Felicia Gans, Globe Correspondent
She’s planning for better times ahead
Dorice M. struggled to make ends meet while taking care of her children and working near-minimum-wage jobs for 10 or 12 hours a day. But when she became unemployed, times grew more dire for the 42-year-old and her two youngest children, a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl.
Dorice and her kids ended up sleeping in the emergency room at Boston Medical Center for two nights this year. She then qualified for emergency housing assistance from the state, and was placed at a shelter at St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester.
She said she feels blessed to have a warm place to stay, but Christmas is hard — not being able to host family gatherings, or cook a big meal for relatives and friends, or give to charity. “We miss a lot of those things we had when we were self-sufficient,” she said. “It hurts.”
Dorice, a Roxbury native, is hopeful. She said she’s two weeks away from completing a technical education program readying her for better-paying jobs in health administration. And despite being homeless, her kids have not missed any days in school and kept good grades, she said with a smile.
As for next Christmas, Dorice said she hopes to be “gainfully employed and being able to give back to another family in need — maybe revisiting here and blessing someone that is in my situation.”
-- Josh Miller, Globe Staff
He dreams of a home, and drum set
At the end of Glen M.’s performances as a drummer decades ago, his bandmates would leave the audience with an invitation: “Party at Glen’s house!”
It’s a phrase he misses: “Glen’s house.”
But he doesn’t want a house for the parties; he just wants a quiet place to call his own.
“You’re never ready to become homeless,” Glen said at Pine Street Inn, where he has been living steadily for two years, and on-and-off for many years prior. “It just happens.”
Glen said spending Christmas at a shelter was a hard experience, but tries to stay positive. He said he loves his life and feels lucky for the opportunities he has had to turn his life around, including an alcohol abuse treatment program and the support of staff and volunteers at Pine Street Inn.
“This is just a stop for about everybody,” said Glen, 63. “It’s a very hard thing to get through, and if you can get through and be successful, you’ll be happy to get out, but grateful for all the people here that helped you.”
Glen said this Christmas feels like a chance to start over. His dreams for 2017 are to stay sober, move into his own home, and buy a drum set. “I want to do it all again,” he said, “but just for the love of music.”
-- Felicia Gans, Globe Correspondent
She made a better life in 2016
Judi V., 52, walked into Rosie’s Place on Christmas Day not as a guest but as a volunteer, a welcome change from last year. Living in transitional housing since October, Judi is no longer homeless, but she hasn’t forgotten the support she received or friendships she made at the shelter for women.
“I came here giving out Christmas gifts and getting Christmas gifts,” she said. “It’s really nice, everything that they put out for everybody,” she said.
Homeless since 2012, Judi stayed at Rosie’s Place six times, taking advantage of the shelter’s programs such as the Leadership Institute, which teaches residents about finance, goal-setting, and how they can use their own voice to achieve their goals. It’s also where she met her best friend.
“We were here at Christmas time, and the last thing we said was for the new year, for 2016, we were going to get apartments — 2016 was our year,” Judi said. “And sure enough, we both ended up with apartments.”
Wearing a red gift bow in her hair, Judi checked her phone for messages from her son and reminisced about what she called the good years, the 12 years that they lived in the same home. “You can get so down because you take two steps forward and three steps back sometime,” she said.
“It feels really good to have a place. It reminds me of when my kid was really small,” she said. “I’ve got the tree and his presents under there and he’s on his way now.”
-- Aimee Ortiz, Globe Staff