Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Photos: Combating homelessness, ‘one day at a time’

The St. Francis House at 39 Boylston St. finds itself at the epicenter of an unprecedented surge in demand, reflecting the rising cost of living and the influx of migrants.

“Since the onset of 2023, we’ve witnessed an almost twofold increase in our daily foot traffic. Previously accommodating three to four hundred visitors daily, we now see upwards of six hundred,” said Valerie Harrison ‘22, the shelter’s marketing and communications coordinator. 

The St. Francis House extends over 10 floors, with the first six dedicated to various common areas and activities. Floors seven to 10 offer permanent housing for those in urgent need. These are single rooms with shared amenities. 

“Our permanent housing facilities are at full capacity. However, we are in ongoing collaboration with other shelters throughout the Greater Boston area to secure housing for our guests,” Harrison explained. She also revealed plans for an extensive renovation of the shelter’s lower floors, set to commence this summer and last approximately eighteen months. During this period, operations will temporarily move to an administrative office at 7 Boylston Square.

As Boston’s largest day shelter, St. Francis House offers more than just basic amenities; it provides many guests with a sense of belonging and home.

A poignant example of the shelter’s impact is on the second floor, in the art therapy room, where Deji, a deaf artist, spends his days. 

“He never wants to leave,” said Gurleen Anand, who has managed the art therapy room for over three years. “To him, this is more than a shelter; it’s his home.” 

Deji’s personal space brims with his creations, including his oil painting of the China Trade Gate in Boston, which stands out as his favorite piece. Despite his inability to communicate verbally, Harrison said his talent speaks volumes. 

“Deji’s skill is undeniable,” Harrison said, highlighting the shelter’s commitment to showcasing its guests’ artistic endeavors. Plans are underway to digitize this artwork, allowing a broader audience to appreciate it online.

Beyond addressing immediate needs, St. Francis House is deeply invested in the long-term welfare of its guests. Their 14-week Workforce Development program is designed to equip individuals for the job market through resume building, mock interviews, and job identification. The program’s crown jewel is “Studio Shine,” a fitting room stocked with various suits intended to mirror the tranquility and order of a department store. 

“We aim to provide our guests with a transformative experience, ensuring they leave Studio Shine ready to shine in their own right,” Harrison said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), research suggests that over 60 percent of adolescents in community-based substance use disorder treatment programs also meet diagnostic criteria for another mental illness​. St. Francis House recently unveiled an intensive outpatient program. This initiative seeks to address both the pathological and psychological facets of substance abuse recovery.

Karen LaFrazia, the president and CEO of St. Francis House, described the organization’s ethos as follows: “At St. Francis House, there’s no ‘typical’ day. Each day is unique, and our focus is squarely on empowering our guests to succeed, one day at a time.”

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  • Valerie Harrison, marketing and communications coordinator at St. Francis House, talks to a guest on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • A social worker at the front desk helps a guest at St. Francis House. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • Two workers wash dishes in the kitchen at St. Francis House. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • A volunteer who works in the kitchen serving food to the guests during lunchtime at St. Francis House located on Boylston Street. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • The shower room at St. Francis House for their guests to use. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • Every day, St. Francis House receives boxes of personal hygiene products for guests. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

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  • A guest crafts in the art therapy room at St. Francis House. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • Deji, a deaf artist at St. Francis House’s art therapy room, draws a new painting on Friday, Apr. 5, 2024. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • Deji, a deaf artist at St. Francis House, poses with his proudest piece in the art therapy room. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • A social worker works in the donation processing room at St. Francis House. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • At St. Francis House, guests can participate in a 14-week Workforce Development Program, designed to equip individuals for the job market through resume building, mock interviews, and job identification. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

  • St. Francis House on Boylston Street is Boston’s largest day shelter. (Feixu Chen/Beacon Staff)

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About the Contributor
Feixu Chen
Feixu Chen, Staff Photographer
Feixu Chen (he/him) is a junior journalism major from Shanghai, China. He serves as a Staff Photographer at the Beacon. He loves traveling and listening to live music. When you can't reach him, there's a good chance he's on a plane heading somewhere.

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