St. Francis House in Boston Provides Shelter, Clothing, and a Path to Stability

For nearly four decades, St. Francis House has served those in need.

The Boston nonprofit began as a simple bread line in 1984 and has since grown into Massachusetts’ largest day shelter. St. Francis House is a place people can go when they find themselves homeless and need a hot meal, clean clothes, a visit to a doctor, or other services.

On the second floor of the organization’s Boylston Street building, a store called Fresh Threads is full of donated clothes neatly arranged on shelves and hangers. People come here to find pants, shirts, shoes, and other essentials.

Fresh Threads is one of two clothing stores in St. Francis House that provides free clean clothing to people in need. The other store, Studio Shine, offers business clothing for those seeking employment.

Marilyn Schairer / GBH News

Icy Rolling, a Hurricane Katrina survivor, said she moved to Boston from Mississippi to get her life back on track. She’s looking for a job, so she came to Fresh Threads with interviews in mind. Rolling searched the shelves for pants and a shirt to “dress for success.”

The shelter also helped her find an apartment and food.

“Saint Francis helped me with the security deposit,” she said. “They helped me furnish my apartment for me and my husband. They helped me with clothes. They help me with food. They help me with pretty much everything, and I appreciate them.”

More from “Holidays, a Time for Charity”

St. Francis House President and CEO Karen LaFrazia said people can come to the shelter for help any day of the year.

“Every day we see 400 or 500 people a day coming in for anything from breakfast to meeting with a housing navigator,” she said.

The one-stop organization serves more than 180,000 hot meals each year and distributes more than 8,000 sets of free clothing, LaFrazia said. They also offer workforce development assistance and services for people who need help with mental and behavioral health issues, as well as addiction and recovery programs.

St. Francis House has a partnership with Boston Health Care for the homeless program and has a full medical clinic in the building.

“That’s the niche that St. Francis House fills,” LaFrazia said. “We are creating a welcoming, respectful and somewhat very resourced place for people experiencing homelessness to come and, above all, meet their most basic needs.”

A man wearing a T-shirt and mask stands next to shelves of clothes.
Lynn’s Tony Williams visits St. Francis House in Boston and his Fresh Threads clothing store to help stretch his budget during times of rising prices.

Marilyn Schairer / GBH News

Tony Williams came over from Lynn to choose clothes. With inflation and rising food prices, it is harder for him to make ends meet, he said, items not mentioned help him stretch his budget.

“A lot of times I go up and I can buy shoes, clothes — you know, underwear, stuff like that — and that helps,” he said. “It helps a lot.

Wayne Devine lives at the Pine Street Inn until he finds accommodation. Devine said having fresh, clean clothes helps her self-esteem.

“It gives confidence,” he said. “People are between a rock and a hard place. And they keep trying to help people here and to be framed.

Staff at St. Francis House in Boston organizes clothing donations to distribute to patrons looking for clean clothing.

Marilyn Schairer / GBH News

Rafael Cristobal has worked at St. Francis House for three months as a van driver and clothing donation processor. He said it was deeply gratifying.

“I distribute the donations that we receive daily to the guests who come every day,” he said. “And it’s a good feeling to help someone feel happy about how they look and how they feel, you know? So, I appreciate that.

LaFrazia said nearly 7,000 people came to St. Francis last year. She said sometimes there is a steep cliff that pushes people into homelessness, but the road can be long.

“The first thing I would say – I always say – is that nobody wants to be homeless. Nobody grew up thinking, ‘This is the life I want to have for myself,'” he said. she stated.

This is the fourth of four stories from this holiday season in GBH News’ ‘Holidays, A Time For Charity’ series, profiling local non-profit organizations that are making a difference in the lives of families in across the state.

Elizabeth J. Harless