McInnis House will move out

John Ruch

Gazette Photo By John Swan.
Staff at the Barbara McInnis House on Walnut Avenue say they will miss JP when the facility moves this summer.

Pine Street may move in

EGLESTON SQ.—The Barbara McInnis House, a renowned health care facility for homeless people that was named for a pioneering Jamaica Plain nurse, will move this summer to a new South End headquarters.

It is too early to say for sure what will happen to the McInnis House’s current large building at 461 Walnut Ave. But the group that runs it, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), is in talks with the homeless organization Pine Street Inn about turning the building into a smaller-scale medical facility and permanent housing for formerly homeless people with ongoing medical needs.

“We’re hoping to continue to have the building serve the people it now serves,” BHCHP Executive Director Bob Taube told the Gazette. “The McInnis House cares for very vulnerable people…The best health care they could get would be permanent housing.”

BHCHP will “absolutely” meet with local residents when there are solid plans to discuss, he said.

“People will have the chance to have their voices heard and questions answered before this moves forward,” said Pine Street Inn spokesperson Barbara Trevisan.

It appears that the upcoming move-out is taking local residents by surprise. Taube said the move has been “very widely publicized” in press coverage of the new South End headquarters. But it appears there was no direct notice about program changes to the Walnut Avenue building. The Gazette could not find any references to the McInnis House move in Boston Globe articles about the new BHCHP headquarters.

One local resident who asked to remain anonymous in this article told the Gazette he is concerned about the lack of community notice.

And, he said, a BHCHP employee told him that the plans specifically feature single-room occupancy (SRO) housing units “so they can have criminals running around in our back yard.”

“My source on the inside said there is a plan to have people with a criminal background” living in the housing units, the resident said. The tenants would be people who couldn’t find housing anywhere else due to their serious criminal records, he said he was told.

But Taube and Trevisan both said the criminal-tenant claim is false. The idea is indeed for SRO units, also known as a lodging house, Trevisan said. But all Pine Street Inn permanent housing includes on-site management and screening of tenants, she said. Tenants often have gone through various Pine Street Inn training programs. The standard Pine Street Inn rental form notes that applicants may be rejected if they have been convicted of a felony.

In addition, the Walnut Avenue units would be aimed at “medically frail” tenants, most of them probably elderly, she said.

The housing would work alongside the scaled-down medical facility, which BHCHP would continue to operate.

“We are not targeting ex-offenders for this, if that’s what people are getting at,” Trevisan said, adding that Pine Street Inn tenants “generally” do not have criminal records.

“That’s just not the case. He’s mistaken,” Taube said of the criminal-tenant claims. “It’s targeted for the homeless, not targeted for ex-offenders.”

Pine Street Inn has several permanent housing sites around JP. They often triggered community worries about crime when proposed until Pine Street Inn won neighbors over, in part by offering tours of their existing housing.

“People who don’t know the whole story…tend to get worked up,” Trevisan said. “Anything we can do to defuse that panic, we would like to do.”

State Rep. Liz Malia said Pine Street Inn has a good reputation across the city. “They’ve been responsible, accessible,” she said.

Malia indicated she also was unaware of coming changes to the Walnut Avenue building. But, she said, she understands that developers often wait until financing and other details are in place before announcing anything.

All the same, Malia said, “My general admonition is to reach out to the community ASAP.”

Barbara McInnis

The McInnis House is a 90-bed “respite” facility. It serves homeless people who are too sick or injured to be on the streets, but who don’t require full hospitalization. The first of its kind in the nation, the program has been in JP since it began in 1985 in the Shattuck Shelter on Morton Street.

In 1993, BHCHP relocated it to the Walnut Avenue building—a former nursing home. In a ceremony on the lawn, the building was dedicated to McInnis, who in the 1970s pioneered the providing of health care services to homeless people on the streets and in shelters.

A City of Boston nurse who worked through the Pine Street Inn, McInnis was known for non-judgmental treatment of an often overlooked patient population.

“We need better access to the system, especially in site care and outreach,” she said at the 1993 building dedication. “But above all, we need to think of the homeless as our brothers and sisters.”

McInnis died in 2003 from medical complications following a car crash in Maine.

BHCHP is moving many of its programs into a new headquarters in the former Mallory Institute of Pathology next to Boston Medical Center (BMC). For the McInnis House respite care program, that will mean more space.

“We’re going to be moving into a wonderful new space,” Taube said. “We are moving [the McInnis House program] into considerably more space and expanding it in size.”

The respite program will go from 90 beds to 104. It also will be less dense, with “roughly twice as much per-patient space,” Taube said.

“There are real benefits to having the McInnis House so close to the Boston Medical Center facility” and other BHCHP services, he said.

The new headquarters building will be named Jean Yawkey Place for one of the founders of the Yawkey Foundation, a major funder of the $35.5 million renovation. But the respite program inside it will continue to be known as the McInnis House.

“The name is really known around town,” Taube said. “Barbara McInnis is a real hero of ours. We wouldn’t be changing that name anytime soon.”

The new headquarters is scheduled to open sometime this summer, and the McInnis House would move around the same time. Taube said BHCHP would retain ownership of the Walnut Avenue building for at least the short term.

BHCHP is a non-profit organization that serves more than 8,000 individual patients a year with a wide variety of programs, including a mobile medical center. It has clinics based at BMC, Massachusetts General Hospital and JP’s Lemuel Shattuck Hospital. It also operates a clinic inside Pine Street Inn’s main shelter downtown.

Taube indicated that Pine Street Inn is the top choice for a partner.

“We have talked to others as well,” Taube said. “It’s Pine Street we are talking to in more detail.”

“We’ve worked in partnership with Pine Street for the last 23 years [on other programs],” Taube said. “They’re the first people we think of when we think of affordable housing. We hope to develop the building with them…There really is no better organization to manage and develop permanent affordable housing for our patients.”

Trevisan indicated that renovation, rather than new construction, would be the most likely option for the building if the deal works out.

“I think the building probably most easily lends itself to [SRO use] because of the way it’s laid out,” Taube said.

While BHCHP’s ideas for the Walnut Avenue building and a development partner look pretty clear, Taube emphasized that they are still only ideas. No deal is in place, he said.

“We’re simply not that far along that it’s really useful to talk about it or try to describe it in particular,” Taube said, promising full community meetings when an actual proposal is on the table. He noted that BHCHP has had a longstanding relationship with the neighborhood.

Pine Street Inn

Pine Street Inn is a non-profit organization that operates two Boston homeless shelters and many related programs. Its Paul Sullivan Housing Trust division runs about two-dozen lodging houses for formerly homeless tenants in Greater Boston. It has a waiting list of 225 people for lodging house units.

The lodging houses include the Bowditch House on Green Street and a women-only house on Locksley Street. Pine Street Inn also has 15 SRO units in the new Egleston Crossing building in the heart of Egleston Square.

The organization’s SROs also will be a major part of the forthcoming redevelopment of the former Blessed Sacrament Church complex in Hyde Square.

On most of those projects, Pine Street Inn overcame early skepticism and gained community support. Initial concerns usually involved misunderstandings that the SROs would be open shelters or halfway houses.

“I remember when Bowditch [House] first opened [in 1991], there were questions,” Malia said, adding that Pine Street Inn quickly addressed them.

A tour of the Bowditch House was one way Pine Street Inn earned the trust of Blessed Sacrament neighbors. Like all Pine Street Inn lodging houses, it features house management, case managers and a variety of job-training and substance abuse programs available.

“Most of the time, people don’t even know these are residences for formerly homeless people,” Trevisan said.

Exact programs and management styles vary depending on the nature of the lodging house, Trevisan said. For example, Pine Street Inn operates some specialty housing for people with HIV/AIDS and people with disabilities. Some lodging houses require tenants to have minimum incomes.

Of the Bowditch House’s first crop of tenants, about half received disability subsidies and about half held jobs.

At the time it opened, the Gazette profiled two of the new tenants.

One was a woman who became homeless when she fled domestic abuse. She became addicted to drugs and worked day-labor jobs. She got SROs housing after spending 15 months in Pine Street Inn’s transitional programs.

Another tenant was a man who became homeless when his disability payments couldn’t cover the high cost of living in Boston. He avoided drugs and alcohol and got a live-work job with Pine Street Inn’s shelter before securing an SRO slot.

Pine Street Inn’s only aim, Trevisan said, is housing people who were on the street because of very low incomes and/or disabilities.

“There is always staffing,” she said. “We screen people very carefully. We have a stake in making this work for the neighborhood.”

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