Their mission: Wipe out homelessness

HomeStart: Board Chair Ed Frechette, Janet Wu of WHDH Ch. 7, and HomeStart’s President/CEO Linda Wood-Boyle at the recent ICycle fundraiser.HomeStart: Board Chair Ed Frechette, Janet Wu of WHDH Ch. 7, and HomeStart’s President/CEO Linda Wood-Boyle at the recent ICycle fundraiser.
Two of Dorchester’s own head up HomeStart, a local nonprofit that serves the Greater Boston area. Ed Frechette, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and CEO & President Linda Wood-Boyle guide the organization in its mission to help homeless individuals, families and veterans.

Founded in 1994, HomeStart prevented 500 people from becoming homeless and moved another 400 from shelters to housing last year. It also provides housing search services to 50 shelters in the Greater Boston area including Rosie’s Place and the Pine Street Inn.

“HomeStart kind of gets in your blood when you’re on the board and you really do want to help as best you can,” Frechette said. “These folks really step up and get other people to participate.”

Earlier this month, the organization held its sixth annual ICycle event where participants raise $250 per person to ride a stationary bike for one hour in whatever winter weather Mother Nature throws at them.

“It’s mission-appropriate when our clients have to do this 24/7,” said Wood-Boyle. “It gives you a taste.”

The day was a big step for HomeStart with 208 participants raising over $100,000, an unpredicted $35,000 increase from last year.

“It totally exceeded expectations,” Wood-Boyle said.

“The money was fabulous, but the increased exposure of HomeStart and what we do was equally as valuable,” she noted. “It’s something I’ve dreamt about for 12 and a half years.”

Wood-Boyle calls this her “third career,” combining her past experience in social work and professional development. Though she had worked with the homeless community before, HomeStart had a certain appeal to her.

“Other agencies ease homelessness with shelter and food and clothing and so on, but we end it,” she said.

Once an individual or family is placed in housing, HomeStart helps them budget and ease into the community, while also providing services for kids to keep them in school and continuing education opportunities for adults.

In the past two years, the nonprofit served 832 Dorchester residents, including children, with various housing needs. Some were prevention cases, others were walk-ins and still others were aided in settling and stabilizing in their new homes.

The success comes with inevitable setbacks, however.

“It’s impressive, but on the other hand, were it not for limited resources, we could help a lot more,” Frechette said.

“Another bottleneck is just the availability of housing,” he added. “Though as good as we are at placing them, you can’t place someone in housing that doesn’t exist.”

“Every time, we get a family or individual out the door into housing, there’s five more waiting at the front door,” Wood-Boyle said.

Still, their efforts are successful. At an average cost of $603, HomeStart can keep a family in their own home while the cost for the Commonwealth to keep the same family in a shelter or a motel is $30,000.

When HomeStart began, its mission was to find homes for individuals who were in a shelter or just coming out of a shelter. Its reach soon extended to families and veterans. As word about the organization spread among the homeless community, people on the verge of eviction started to call, asking what to do. The prevention program was put in place and continues to develop.

“What we’re dealing with as a board and as an organization is how we adapt to what we think are opportunities while still staying true to what we initiated back almost 20 years [ago],” he said.

A nine-year Dorchester resident, Frechette is dedicated to his position as Chair and aims to keep HomeStart on course in its efforts to end homelessness in Greater Boston.

“I’m a Dorchester resident and I see it. I’m a Dorchester resident by choice,” Wood-Boyle said. “We actually made a conscious decision to buy here 12 years ago.”

Wood-Boyle describes what she sees in Dorchester and surrounding communities as “chronic generational poverty” where many individuals and families “live on the edge.”

“That precious budget is balanced so tightly,” she said. “One little blip on the screen and the whole thing goes and crumbles.”

“We’re on the precipice of hopefully being in the Rolodex around homelessness issues,” she said. “We want to end homelessness and I believe we can do that. We do it one family at a time, but we can do it.”