The home of St. Francis in Boston provides sanctuary, clothing, and a path to stability

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

The Boston nonprofit started as a simple bread line in 1984, and has since grown to become the largest daily shelter in Massachusetts. A St. Francis home is where people go when they are 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, there’s a store called Fresh Thread filled with donated clothes neatly arranged on shelves and hangers. People come here to find pants, shirts, shoes and other basic things.

Fresh Thread is one of two clothing stores in St. Francis House provides free clean clothes to those in need. The other store, Studio Shine, offers work wear apparel for those looking for work.

Marilyn Shearer/GBH News

Issei Rowling, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, said she moved to Boston from Mississippi to get her life back together. She was looking for a job, so she came to Fresh Thread for interviews on her mind. Search rolling across the shelves to find a “dress for success” pants and shirt.

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 basically everything, and I appreciate them.”

More from “The Holidays, a Time for Charity”

Karen Lafrazia, president and CEO of St. Francis Council, said people can come to the shelter for help any day of the year.

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

La Frazia said the multi-service organization serves more than 180,000 hot meals each year and distributes more than 8,000 sets of free clothing. They also provide workforce development assistance, services for people who need help with mental health and behavioral issues, along with substance abuse and recovery programs.

at St. Francis House is a partnership with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and has a full medical clinic on the premises.

“This is where the House of St. Francis fills,” Lafrazia said. “We create a welcoming, respectful and resourceful place for people experiencing homelessness to come and, above all, meet their most basic needs.”

A man in a T-shirt and mask stands by the clothes shelves.
Toni Williams of Lynn visited St. Francis’ Boston home and clothing store Fresh Thread to help increase his budget during times of price hikes.

Marilyn Shearer/GBH News

Tony Williams traveled from Lynn to pick out clothes. With inflation and rising food prices making it difficult for him to make ends meet, he said the informal items are helping to increase his budget.

“A lot of times I’m able to have shoes, clothes – you know, underwear, things like that – and that helps me,” he said. “It helps a lot.

Wayne Devine lives in Pine Street Inn until he finds housing. Devine said that getting clean and fresh clothes helps boost his confidence.

He said, “It gives confidence. People are between a rock and a hard place. They keep trying to help people here and get guidance.”

The staff at St. Francis House in Boston Donations of clothes to be distributed to clients looking for clean clothes.

Marilyn Shearer/GBH News

Rafael Cristobal has been working at St. Francis House for three months as a truck driver and handler for clothing donations. He said it was very fun.

He said, “I distribute the donations we get on a daily basis to the guests who come every day. And it feels so good to help someone feel happy about how they look and how they feel, you know? So, I’m enjoying that.”

Lafrazia said nearly 7,000 people came to St. Francis last year. She said that sometimes there is a very steep slope that drops people off into a state of homelessness, but the way out can be long.

“The first thing I would say—I always say—is that no one wants to be homeless. No one ever grew up thinking, ‘This is the life I want to live for myself,'” she said.

This is the fourth of four stories this holiday season in the GBH news series “Holidays It’s Time for Charity,” which describes local nonprofits making a difference in the lives of families across the state.

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