LIFE CHANGING LESSONS
Brookview House in Dorchester, Mass., helps homeless families break the cycle of poverty
A family living at the Brookview House enjoys a holiday party (photo, courtesy of Broookview House)
by Eric J. Hurwitz, VisitingNewEngland.com
Several years ago, Angela Veale's world collapsed in a very short amount of time.
In 1999, Veale (photo, left) lost her mother to cancer. Within a few years of that traumatic time, Veale also lost her full-time job, gone through a divorce and eventually found herself homeless. With four young girls to take care of (including a one-month-old baby), the Veale family ended up living in a one-room motel room in Raynham, Mass.
"I felt like I was at the bottom," said Veale. "I was not on drugs, never on welfare and was living in a nice apartment in Braintree (Mass.). When this happened, I was so mad at the world. It was a very scary time."
One day at the unemployment line, a friend told Veale, then 30, about Brookview House -- located in Dorchester and Roxbury, Mass. -- a supportive housing program with a mission to assist homeless families in the development of skills necessary to break the cycle of poverty.
Brookview House accepted Veale into the program, providing a temporary three-bedroom apartment on the premises.
"People knew it was a shelter, but to me it was just like home," said Veale. "It was just so peaceful there. I had my own place to cook, a 'home' to store my baby's formula, and to really live like I was before everything happened."
While at Brookview, Veale attended computer class and helped out at the Brookview office. Graduating Brookview in May 2002, Veale became a part-time receptionist and is now the full-time administrative assistant at Brookview -- a job which she proudly has worked, to this very day. Best yet, Veale found true stability by moving into a four-bedroom apartment in Dorchester. Her children have benefited from this stability with oldest daughter Shaneka at Newbury College, Arthur, 19, at Job Corps, 11-year-old Janae, a sixth grade honors student; nine-year old Shakyra, also an honors student, and Myesha, a happy, well-adjusted eight-year-old.
"I never could see me as being homeless," said Veale. "But it can happen. Brookview emphasized to me that you 'can't change the past but you can work on the future.' I did that."
Veale's story represents the challenges single mothers and their children face -- even more so today during a challenged economy -- and the vital mission that Brookview offers to help and provide skills they need to succeed.
"Our program gives a family the chance to get back on their legs," said Mercedes Tompkins, Chief Development officer at Brookview House. "The approach is supporting families to achieve goals and self-sufficiency. We encourage our residents to realize that change happens one thing at a time. Individuals may think they don't have anything to offer, but we show them that there is something that everyone has to offer."
The results are impressive: Brookview services an average of 100 moms and 200 children per year with 75 percent of the families leaving homelessness behind permanently.
"Brookview seeks to truly end homelessness by providing services to the whole family, said Deborah Hughes, executive director of Brookview House. "Moms develop skills to maintain housing and nurture their children. Children stay in school and thrive."
Established in 1990, the staff at Brookview House not only serves homeless families in need but also knows that living in Boston creates a further challenge as being one of the most expensive cities to live in the United States. The average cost of a two-bedroom Boston apartment can cost between $1,900.00 and $2,900.00 a month. Combined with increasing taxes, utility and food costs, the high cost of living is further exacerbated to those who have a lack of education and face overwhelming "life" challenges. While Brookview focuses strongly on giving single mothers the life skills to break the cycle of poverty (including, but not limited to, education on parenting, substance abuse, recovery, spirituality, housing and future planning), the staff also provides dedicated, comprehensive educationally and socially-driven programs for homeless children to prepare themselves for productive lives. It's a whole family approach, says Tompkins.
Local field trips and family parties provide a sense of community for young people, ages six to 21, while younger children receive individualized care. In the summer of 2009, many school-age children got to roller skate, swim, dance, hike, and enjoy a day at Water Country in Portsmouth, N.H., as well as an end of summer trip to an amusement park.
Brookview House teens -- who have experienced poverty, guns, drugs and violence as a part of their everyday lives -- recently joined the Boston Public Health Commission to conduct a survey to "assess teens awareness of mental health issues," according to Tompkins. Upon completion of the survey, the teens developed a flyer and presented the information to a local forum on children's mental health services.
"What this has done is given them a sense of hope," said Tompkins. "It empowered them to learn more about research skills, mental health issues and what community resources are out there. The exit survey gives them a better understanding of issues, and breaks the isolation as they realize they are not the only ones that face problems."
Brookview House continues to evolve with a greater variety of services and more housing opportunities (with the Moreland St., Roxbury, site focusing more in permanent housing). Tompkins stresses that Brookview is "committed to making a difference in peoples' lives and giving them the tools needed to be focused and move on to self-sufficiency."
For Veale, Brookview helping her focus and attain self-sufficiency helped create a new life in which she expresses eternal gratitude as well as loyalty to the Brookview mission.
"The moms and the children -- I love seeing them," said Veale. "I love seeing the attachment, the love, the growth. The children are the innocent ones and here they have security. Having been through the program, I know that the moms have made a good decision being here. Sometimes, you have to ask people for help."
"Never be afraid to ask people for help."
Editor's note and endorsement of Brookview House: We encourage you to help the Brookview mission, en route to assisting single mothers break the cycle of poverty. You can donate by visiting the Brookview House donation page on its web site. We also strongly encourage you to look over the entire Brookview House web site to learn about all the great things they do.
Here's a little background on why we became involved with Brookview House:
Ultimately, we are deeply aware, at VisitingNewEngland.com, that vacations are a luxury, not a necessity -- and that many families in our region and beyond face economic challenges that can result in, at best, careful budgeting, and at the very worst, foreclosure and homelessness. Many years ago, I saw a New England Cable News special on Brookview House and was really moved by its mission. I contacted Brookview and asked if I could donate a portion of our advertising profits. For every local advertisement we sell or hotel commission we make, five percent of the profits will go to Brookview House -- thus, helping homeless families. It is our hope that hotel reservation conversions and local ad sales increase to the point where we can donate much more to Brookview.
What confirmed that it was the right decision to donate to Brookview occurred when I met all the nice people there. From staff to the homeless I met, something told me that we are, ultimately, all family even if we come from different backgrounds. With all sincerity, I think we should find ways to help our brothers and sisters in need, even if there is no biological relation. It's just the right thing to do.
To me, the Brookview staff has one of the most important missions around -- that is, to give families the tools to help break the cycle of poverty. Having never been homeless makes me want to help even more, as goodwill towards those less fortunate is one of the main tenets of human decency. I believe that we are all equal as human beings, but we have not been give equal situations due to unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances. To help an equal of mine is truly satisfying and, hopefully, contributes to the betterment of our society.
And that is why I contribute to Brookview, an organization that I see as doing great things in the community.
Eric at VisitingNewEngland.com
P.S.: If you are comfortable with making online hotel reservations, we would be grateful if you would consider us -- and if you could help spread the word, also, to benefit Brookview House. You can access our Hotel Reservations Page here.
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