It’s been years since they last saw each other and two decades since they met, but Barbara Parham and Jeanne Satterfield are reunited now and closer than ever.
They decided they have to be.
In a reunion neither of them expected, Parham and Satterfield find themselves homeless and living at the Pine Street Inn after losing good jobs, apartments of their own, and the confidence that came with them.
“I had never been in a shelter in my life,” said Satterfield, 61, who has found refuge at the Boston shelter since July. “I was scared to death to come here.”
She also was startled to walk through the door and see her friend already there. “She was embarrassed, and so was I,” Satterfield recalled.
Now, as Satterfield searches for a foothold forward, Parham has agreed to take the journey with her, step by uncertain step on a path they hope leads to a shared apartment and a new chance at stability.
“You get to see being homeless can happen to anyone,” said Parham, 56, who worked as a union carpenter until injuries and a bad heart ended that occupation. “But we’re now in the same place with the same goal of moving forward.”
Their quest has not been easy.
Ally Fiske, a Pine Street housing specialist, said the women have been rocked by disappointment after disappointment in an expensive rental market where the stigma of homelessness is hard to overcome. Through its Rapid Rehousing Program, Pine Street will pay first and last months’ rent and the security deposit. But even that headstart has not been enough to clinch a market-rate deal.
Unlike some other clients at Pine Street, the women are not dependent on alcohol or drugs, they said. But the problems that addiction and poverty can cause among other homeless — the fights, the arguments, the unpredictable behavior — have taken an emotional toll, the friends said.
At Thanksgiving, the women posed at the shelter with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh as Parham giddily dangled the keys to an apartment they had found in Chelsea. Soon afterward, the landlord canceled the lease, Fiske said.
“It’s been one setback after another. We kind of suck it up and come back and start all over again,” Satterfield said with a sigh, adding that she had been a drug and alcohol counselor making nearly $60,000 a year, with benefits.
Satterfield said she left her job after the employer required a new form of certification. At her age, more schooling was not attractive and another job seemed easily obtainable, she said. The reality was much different.
Not only was Satterfield unable to find new work, she said, but she underwent spine surgery this year and has been battling depression. She moved out of her Weymouth apartment and lived with friends for a time. But they moved away, and Pine Street became the once-unthinkable option.
“It was shocking,” Satterfield said.
Equally shocking was walking into Pine Street’s women’s shelter in the South End and seeing Parham, her longtime friend from Hyde Park, among 120 desperate women who use the facility each night.
At first, Parham thought Satterfield had come to apply for a job, because she knew her friend had long experience in substance-abuse counseling. The truth was startling.
“I’m here for a bed,” Satterfield told her.
Worried and wary, she sat beside Parham, who offered Satterfield the comfort of a familiar face amid the mix of bustle and boredom that can permeate a busy homeless shelter.
“I’m glad to see you, but not under these circumstances,” Parham said to Satterfield.
The meeting triggered memories of Parham’s own introduction to Pine Street last spring, when she entered the shelter alone and walked to the reception desk.
“They asked me my name, and I couldn't even tell them,” Parham said. “I just started crying and crying and crying. This is what my life had come to.”
Even as they supported each other, the notion that they should share an apartment did not seem feasible. They had been too independent, they were older, they have no children, and staying with friends and relatives had been difficult.
“I’ve lost friends over homelessness,” Parham said. “The person you’re living with gets tired. They start wanting their own space again.”
Fiske kept urging them to consider the idea. Finally, after a string of frustrating housing searches, it clicked. Parham’s monthly disability payments, plus whatever Satterfield can contribute, might bring the rent within reach.
“At first I said, ‘I don’t want to live together. We don’t need to do this,’ ” Parham said. “And then we agreed: We have to be realistic.”
Fiske helps by reaching out to prospective landlords and arranging visits to apartments as close as Somerville and as far as Fall River. She also helps by urging women at the shelter to search for rentals on their own, and by making sure they have no outstanding debts.
“They know they have the ability to be independent, but sometimes they forget,” Fiske said.
Satterfield and Parham said they are convinced they will find a home together, but they realize a move might not be imminent.
“I know that there’s a rainbow here. She’s goal-oriented,” Satterfield said of her friend. “We’ve learned to trust each other even more. Even if we argue, she doesn’t hold a grudge.”
Not only has that partnership been a blessing, but Parham said the lessons of Pine Street will stay with her when she leaves.
“You get to see this can happen to anyone,” Parham said. “That’s why I will never judge people. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Fiske said she is confident that something good will happen.
“If it’s the last thing we do, we’re going to find them an apartment,” Fiske said. “They wake up each day and they keep moving forward. They’re an inspiration to us all.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.