LUCA KELLEY NIELSEN/SAGAMORE STAFF
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, homeless shelters and food banks in the Greater Boston area have struggled to combat the growing number of homeless clients while maintaining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for social distancing, sanitation and many other daily procedures.
Social worker Paul Epstein has helped countless individuals with their personal encounters with homelessness throughout his career at the high school. Epstein said the way people generally think about homelessness does not apply to every situation.
According to Epstein, there are many different types of homelessness. A homeless person can be in that situation for a variety of common reasons such as poverty, addiction, mental health trauma and domestic abuse. Epstein said when you see a homeless person on the street, be careful not to assume the details of their situation, as that experience could be different for everyone.
Homeless shelters are only one piece of the puzzle. Throughout the Greater Boston area, food pantries and food banks help homeless people by collecting, preparing and giving out food that would have otherwise been thrown away. The Brookline Food Pantry has three locations that support homeless and struggling people in Brookline and its surrounding towns.
Executive Director of the Brookline Food Pantry Elizabeth Boen explained the increase in the number of families the Brookline Food Pantry serves and their future plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The change has been that across our three physical pantry locations. Instead of 175 families a week, we now see about 600 to 650 households per week,” Boen said. “We started a new program in March when the pandemic hit, which is home delivery, which we never had before.”
According to Boen, the Town of Brookline and the Brookline Food Pantry came to an agreement for keeping their services open while still maintaining appropriate social distancing measures.
“The Town of Brookline actually came to us to talk about whether we should close the pantry back in March when things were so uncertain about how this virus was going to spread. But we told them we were very uncomfortable that there could be hungry people,” Boen said. “[We considered] it could even be getting worse with businesses shutting down, people losing their jobs, and that there might be even more food insecurity. So they agreed with that and they set up some pretty stringent guidelines for us.”