Pine Street Inn: The Priests That Set Out to End Homelessness in Boston

Ask anyone about the statistic that only 3% of Boston’s population is homeless, and they’ll tell you that it’s a remarkable feat, one that virtually no other major American city could come close to matching. But run that same statistic by the people behind Boston’s Pine Street Inn, New England’s leading shelter for the homeless, and they’ll affirm that they won’t be satisfied until that number drops to 0% and stays there for good.

The Pine Street Inn was founded in 1969 by the Association of Urban Priests as part of an effort spearheaded by Msgr. Frank Kelley and Fr. Bill Joy, who reincorporated it separately as “The Pine Street Inn, Inc.” in 1972. Together, Kelley and Joy worked tirelessly to implement many of the operational structures that enabled Pine Street to flourish into Greater Boston’s greatest force against homelessness. “They stepped up when no one else would at the time, because I think people were afraid,” says Pine Street Inn President Lyndia Downey.

While Msgr. Kelley and Fr. Joy took on the brunt of the initial work in getting Pine Street off the ground, they’ve been far from alone in their efforts throughout the nearly five decades that have followed. Both agree that the key to Pine Street’s sustained success has been the overwhelming support they’ve received from the city of Boston and its residents rallying around their mission.

“Pine Street shows that this city and this greater Boston area really care for those in need and are willing to walk with people during difficult times and help them up” states Joy. “Everyone in this city is willing to pay attention to the needs homeless people have,” adds Kelley. “We have institutionalized care for homeless people, and I think Pine Street has been one of the major forces in achieving that.”

For many people who wander through its doors, the Pine Street Inn provides them with far more than a roof over their heads. Thanks to Pine Street’s job training program, it’s also given them a second chance at life. “Most people think they screw up their life, and it’s over,” says Kelley. “They learn here how to fight back and put things together.”

“You have everything, and then all of a sudden, you lose it because of poor choices, and then to start all over again isn’t easy,” assesses Rosalia Hernandez Aparicio, a graduate of Pine Street’s catering program. “I don’t feel like the victim like I did before. I feel like I have my life back. I love this program so much. It makes you feel like a family.”

According to Kelley, Pine Street’s capacity to not only shelter the homeless but also teach them new skills that motivate them to regain their sense of purpose serves as a prime example of the message stated in Matthew 25 from the New Testament: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

And, Kelley adds, it may just also exemplify a salient, lesser-known passage from the New Testament. “It says in the Book of Hebrews that you’ve gotta be careful,” explains Kelley. “Because, with the strangers that are coming in, you might be entertaining angels.”

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