Catholic Charities Inn provides shelter, community for immigrant families

BRIGHTON -- Catholic Charities has opened a new emergency shelter for families, many of whom have just recently arrived in Massachusetts after leaving their home countries.

The state's Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) reached out to Catholic Charities of Boston at the end of May, asking them to run a new facility. Originally a hotel, the building served as a shelter for homeless adults when Pine Street Inn needed more space for residents during the coronavirus pandemic. With the end of social distancing, Pine Street Inn no longer needed the space, leaving the building available for a new use: an emergency family shelter.

The new shelter, Catholic Charities Inn, opened during the last week of June, and its 45 rooms were full by the end of July. The facility is expected to be open for the next two years to address the state's housing shortage and increase in immigration.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston (CCAB) has two other emergency family shelters, but Catholic Charities Inn is much larger, with more than double the number of rooms in the next largest shelter. Only pregnant women and families with children can live there. Most of the residents are new to the shelter system, though some transfer from other shelters in Massachusetts. The state determines which families go to that location.

Most of the families speak Haitian Creole, followed by English and Spanish. One room has been designated as a play space, and they are planning to open a homework room for school-age children when the school year begins.

"We want this to be a place where families can get back on track," Kelley Tuthill, CCAB's chief operating officer, said in a July 27 interview.

Beth Chambers, CCAB's vice president of basic needs, said that they "answered the call" to get the shelter set up in such a short amount of time.

"I couldn't be more grateful for my Catholic Charities colleagues in all different departments who pitched in to help," she said.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley visited the inn during an ice cream social on July 27. Cabot's Ice Cream donated the dessert, and the company's owner, Joe Prestejohn, helped distribute it to the inn's residents and employees.

Speaking with reporters after viewing the facility, Cardinal O'Malley noted that it was not his first time seeing an influx of immigrants arriving in the U.S. As a young priest, he spent 20 years ministering to Washington, D.C.'s Hispanic community, which included many who had fled violence in Central and South America.

"People are desperate to find a safe place for their families. So, I'm hoping that the commonwealth will be that safe place," he said.

Earlier in the week, the cardinal and representatives of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference had met with Gov. Maura Healey and her staff to discuss how they could collaborate on the issue of caring for refugees.

"The Church is very anxious to do whatever we can to be helpful, and delighted to partner with the Commonwealth," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Massachusetts law gives homeless families a "right to shelter." The number of families in state-run shelters is approaching 5,000, with about 3,500 living in traditional shelter settings, and about 1,400 living in hotels or motels.

Tuthill, who is set to become CCAB's president and CEO in 2024, expressed her appreciation for Cardinal O'Malley taking the time to meet the residents and "make it clear that the people in the Archdiocese of Boston care about them and welcome them and want to make sure they're safe, and that their children have a chance to get to school and to thrive. That means a lot, so we're grateful for his leadership and his compassion, and we try to live up to the example he sets for all of us."

"The cardinal has made housing a priority for the Archdiocese of Boston, and we are pleased to be able to support that important mission. And when the state asked us if we could make this shelter operable for families in need, our team rushed to meet that need," she said.