Homeless Does Not Mean Helpless

Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Somerville Community Access Television

Contributing Reporters on this Newscast:

Click here to watch the video story. A lost full-time job left Francesca Marchese on the brink of homelessness. But the St. Patrick’s Homeless Shelter at Union Square uneases her concerns, where she not only gets a bed to sleep on, but can also take a warm shower and have fresh food.

“I always have a bed to come back,” Marchese told Somerville Neighborhood News (SNN). “I have a roof over my head, which was my biggest concern. And that’s what the shelter gives me.”

The St. Patrick’s Homeless Shelter of Catholic Charities, a social services provider, houses 32 emergency beds and 10 single bedrooms of its transitional housing program. As a part-time cashier for Panera Bread, Marchese is eligible for the transitional program, which requires the residents to work at least 30 hours a week.

Besides a roof over their heads, the residents also receive budget management service to help them become self-sufficient one day. For instance, they have to put one third of their income toward future housing cost, according to Nancy Kavanagh, the director for St. Patrick’s shelter.

“There is a lot of loss that leads up to people’s homelessness. It’s not just necessarily that we put you back to the beds and everything will be ok,” Kavanagh told SNN. “…[We] put them in a position where when you move back to housing, you are not going back to the same situation.”

Having been working for the shelter system for over a decade, Kavanagh noticed some misconceptions among the public about homeless people.

“There is a culture that would say people choose to be homeless. No one would choose that lifestyle,” Kavanagh said. “…People are just not being able to make end meet sometimes.”

Kavanagh told SNN that 11 out of the 32 emergency beds are reserved for working women who don’t need to line up for a spot to stay at night by night. “Many of them are working with hourly wage. They are either making minimum wage or just above minimum wage. It’s extremely difficult to find housing in Somerville and Cambridge market to be able to rent an apartment at market rate,” she added.

Marchese was laid off from her Toyota accountant job in 2009. Draining away her savings and not able to afford an market-rate apartment with her part-time job wage, she turned to St. Patrick’s shelter and got a reserved bed. Four months later, she moved to the second floor of the shelter, which places the 10 transitional program rooms.

“When this happened to me, everybody was like ‘Wow,’ and I was like well this happens when you lose a full-time job during a recession,” Marchese said. “When your money ran out, you have to make an adjustment that was what I have to do.”

Kavanagh also told SNN that even though some women were eligible for subsidized housing, The waiting list was so long that people can wait several years. “That’s the day you become homeless,” Kavanagh said. “You got 3 to 5 years to wait for subsidized unit.”

But with assistance of the shelter’s case managers, 90 percent of the women in the transitional program successfully moved into subsidized housing or even market-rate units within two years, according to Kavanagh.

Marchese said her only hope for now is to have her own apartment that she can afford. “I just want a living room, a kitchen and a bedroom. I just want a small area for myself. That’s it,” she said.