BU News Service
The number of homeless families and children increased by around 20 percent this year according to the homeless census conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission.
Only about 1.7 percent of the total homeless population can be seen living on the streets. The rest are families living in motels and emergency shelters.
St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, located just outside of Dorchester Center, serves 600 women and children providing them with temporary shelter, job training, clinical services and educational programs during the search for permanent housing.
“This is an amazing place, really,” says Vivian Handley, 26, the receptionist at St. Mary’s. “These women get what they need and are treated with the utmost respect. The donations we get here still have the tags on them.”
Handley started off as a resident of St. Mary’s herself. Then, she entered the “Women@Work” program offered through the organization and spent 22 weeks in a job-readiness course which helps women who face barriers to employment, including homelessness, lack of a high-school diploma, history of substance abuse or domestic violence, and difficulty obtaining or retaining employment.
Now, she sits at the front desk beaming at the women who walk in and out of the building. “To see these women’s faces everyday and know they’re getting the education and programming that they need is amazing,” Handley says.
Handley says that many shelters in the Boston area will only provide temporary or transitional housing. St. Mary’s, meanwhile, offers career guidance, crisis intervention, trauma counseling, and creative programs like Grlzradio.org a broadcasting and music production program which, as their website says, “gives girls a voice in their community.”
But above all, Handley says St. Mary’s success is due to their commitment to confidentiality, safety, and dignity.
“We don’t treat these women like something that needs to be fixed,” Handley says, “We give them only the best and ask that they give themselves the same thing.”