Pine Street Inn preparing to move homeless from Suffolk dorm

A man prayed before his meal at the Pine Street Inn last December.

The Pine Street Inn is preparing to relocate the homeless people who have been housed at a Suffolk University dorm since April to a hotel that the organization has leased for the next year, according to Pine Street’s director.

“This will be a replacement for Suffolk University dorm as a way to keep social distancing,” said Pine Street Inn’s executive director, Lyndia Downie.

Starting next week, the shelter plans to bring 180 of the 230 people housed at Suffolk to 891 Massachusetts Ave., she said. A year-long lease of the address, which is listed as a Best Western hotel, will hopefully give the organization enough time to find permanent housing solutions for all of them, Downie said in a phone interview Sunday.


“Between the hotel and some capacity in the [Pine Street Inn] shelter, we’ll be able to offer everybody shelter.”

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Each room at the hotel will house two people, she said, and Pine Street Inn workers will staff the facility 24 hours a day.

The initial move to place the homeless staying at the Pine Street Inn shelter in the Suffolk dorm came at a critical time in late March as cases began rising around the state and spiked within the city’s homeless population, she said.

At that point, more than a third of those staying at their shelter had tested positive for COVID-19, she said. Anxieties about catching the disease were high among their residents while some were afraid to go to the hospital, lest their beds at the shelter be taken while they were gone.

“We couldn’t achieve social distancing without another site,” she recalled. “Last week, just under 2 percent of those in Pine Street’s care tested positive, Downie said.


The agreement with Suffolk University, facilitated by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, was set to end in August, she said. Students are expected to begin returning to the dorm, Nathan R. Miller Hall, on Aug. 20, according to Greg Gatlin, a university spokesman.

“Boston is our home, and we take very seriously our responsibility to help the city and our community in a time of need,” he said in an e-mail Sunday. “We were very happy to make Miller Hall available to the city to house some members of a vulnerable population during the pandemic.”

But with short-term housing needs met for now, and the first wave of the virus over, Downie said, Pine Street is looking ahead.

“People have got to work with us to get housing and get housing quickly,” she said, noting how a tiny fraction of those they oversee who have been placed in permanent housing were sickened by the virus, compared to those staying in the shelter.

“The pandemic wouldn’t have been as challenging had we had enough housing,” she said.