An oral history of Haley House
AS TOLD TO THE BOSTON INSTITUTE FOR NONPROFIT JOURNALISM
If hungry people had to count on seasonal compassion, the poor would likely starve but for the holidays. The government only assists so much; in Boston, for example, it’s been two years since the closing of critical services on Long Island, and the impact of that loss still weighs heavily on many who relied on those facilities for food, shelter, and jobs.
Thankfully there is another safety net, however strained, in which people who have been abandoned and rejected can find hope. Plus a warm bed. And perhaps even employment. We hear a lot about our first responders and about the heroes who dart into burning buildings and such. But much less celebrated are community members who endure emotionally strenuous tasks, in some cases crusading against challenges like homelessness that rage for generations with no end in sight.
For half a century, Haley House has underpinned a major slice of the Hub’s grassroots social service sector. First as a temporary shelter, then through the years as much, much more. Following the Catholic Worker traditions of hospitality and volunteerism that inspired Haley House, the operation has adapted to the needs of those they serve. In the words of co-founder Kathe McKenna, “First we saw that people were homeless and needed a place to stay. Then we saw that they were hungry and they needed food. Then we figured out that people needed permanent housing. And then jobs.”
What no one needs is yet another rags-to-riches ode to meritocracy. Far more central to the fostering of real equality are rags-to-restoration tales in which those who have historically lacked fortune and luck are treated with respect and dignity. There aren’t nearly enough stories like that, especially ones that reveal the gamut of experiences, from the mundane to the moving, of those who dedicate their lives to lifting those in poverty. So for the 50th anniversary of Haley House, we asked Executive Director Bing Broderick to assemble a roundtable of voices to dredge up memories for us to spin into an oral history. Documented here in detail, it should serve as an inspiration to us all.
TIRED OF ORGANIZING
KATHE MCKENNA (co-founder): In 1966, I met this guy named John McKenna. He was talking about doing the same thing I was talking about doing … and living in a rooming house on Mass. Ave., which at the time was a pretty tough neighborhood, in what amounted to a house of prostitution, and he was teaching school during the day. He was bringing guys home at night to give them a place to stay, but the guys who were running the house took him aside and said, “Buddy, you bring any more of those drunks in the house and you’re all on the sidewalk.” He knew he needed to find a new place to stay, and he wanted to start a Catholic Worker …
I was organizing for a student group out of Chicago, and was getting tired of organizing. The war movement was just starting to heat up … I wanted to segue into something more direct, and John was at heart a working class guy. The idea of living with the poor was very attractive. He thought it was intense, and important …
He picked me up on a Saturday morning and said, “Do you want to come with me? I’m going to rent a place now.” I told him I had to go to Chicago and quit my job, and he picked me up at the airport when I got back a week later … I remember us saying [to a leasing agent] that we wanted a basement apartment. I was thinking with a second entrance, so we would be less visible …
We started welcoming guys to stay there with us, and nobody noticed. Nobody cared. That’s the difference between the South End now and the South End then. The space [outside of where The Beehive currently is on Tremont Street] was called Pigeon Park, and it’s where all the drunks hung out. It was a place for alcoholics …
We got thrown out of our [first] place because Hope House purchased it. Through a set of astounding miracles we bought 23 Dartmouth St. by the end of 1966 without a pot to piss in …
JULIA MACLAUGHLIN (co-secretary of board): I came to Haley House [in 1967], mainly for the people who were there who were supporting [anti-war presidential candidate] Eugene McCarthy. Whoever was involved either lived in the house or the neighborhood, so you easily got pulled in. A lot of people would be working [on the McCarthy] campaign.
KATHE MCKENNA: Though we didn’t have any intention of being a formal not-for-profit [at first], we were told by this great radical attorney that there was a template and we could do it. Several of our comrades at the time were applying for [conscientious objector status], and the boys with us were all going to get sent to prison for dodging the draft. If we got the [nonprofit status], they could all do their alternative service at Haley House instead of getting shipped off to some veteran’s hospital.
JULIA MACLAUGHLIN: I was a Catholic girl, raised in Boston, and … going for McCarthy was as far as I went. So when I went to those nightly talks … for me it was like, “Wow.” It was like bread being made with yeast, and [John and Kathe McKenna] were really like the yeast. And then somebody like me comes along, this white blanchflower, and it started percolating things in me. It enriched me. It was a bit scary, but it touched me in a way that you knew this was right.
KATHE MCKENNA: It was originally going to be called Roger LaPorte House. Although we didn’t know Roger, he had just immolated himself in front of the United Nations. It was a big deal at the time, and it was a big deal in the Catholic Worker movement. Was it suicide? Was it not? There was a big hullabaloo. We were very moved by that, very touched. Then a friend of ours died …
[Leo Haley] was a social work grad student at BC, a really wonderful guy, and he died very tragically [after] offering to take some guys home off the street [Ed. note: Haley was reportedly abducted at knifepoint]. He eventually had a heart attack because of his heart condition. It remains undecided what really happened that night, and what the motivation was, but it was very tragic … Leo was our friend, we argued and drank beers, and we wanted him to get out of his suit and come and join us. Don’t become a social worker. Don’t go join the establishment. But he was totally dedicated, a great guy, and when he died it alerted us, it was a message to not judge a book by its cover. Don’t say your path is better than their path, because you don’t know.
KATHE MCKENNA: There were no neighborhood associations back then. But … groups were beginning to organize. Mel King started an organization; people organized against urban renewal. Some of us from Haley House went down to the [Boston Redevelopment Authority] and wouldn’t leave. In fear of creating a fuss, they literally lined Warren Ave, from the BRA office to the police station, on both sides of the street, so as they took us out nobody could see what was happening.
DAVID MANZO (board member, former live-in community member): A check we got as a donation showed the difference between the practical and the ideal. This was 1979, and we were struggling. There wasn’t enough money for a breakfast program, so we were serving a maple-flavored oatmeal. There just wasn’t enough money to do everything we wanted to do. And we got a check for $10,000 from someone affiliated with IBM. I did the books, and I saw the check, and I knew that if the community saw the check there would be this big decision. Do we take money from a big corporation? That night I opened the mail, and I went upstairs and I got a deposit slip, I wrote “for deposit only,” I put the check in the mail that night … I thought it was more beneficial for our guests than it would have been to have a philosophical discussion about whether to take it.
KATHE MCKENNA: Haley House was the first homeless services provider that did permanent housing. David and I scouted the neighborhood and bought 575 Tremont Street. We had an envelope I think, and we did the math on the back.
DAVID MANZO: The building was $40,000 [in 1979]. We needed $8,000 for the down payment, and Dave Gill, a Jesuit, ran the Boston Marathon to raise that money.
KATHE MCKENNA: He fell short $500. We had to take it out of our checking account for crying out loud.
NOREEN MANZO (first paid employee and manager of affordable housing program): The first time I ever came, the soup kitchen looked a lot different than it does now. When my husband was living there they called it “Fort Haley” because the walls were falling down … There were these little rectangular windows at the top, so you couldn’t see anything from the outside. When you went inside it was dark, and dreary …
I never had any experience with homeless men, and I just didn’t know what to think. Someone who I still consider a friend said, “Hey, peel these carrots,” and he handed me like a 50-pound bag … And as I stood over the sink peeling, I looked around at what was going on and I got a sense that I know where I am now, and it’s not the fearsome place I thought it was. It made me feel like maybe I could do something here.
DAVID MANZO: In the ’60s and ’70s the neighborhood got saturated with nonprofits, and the neighbors weren’t really organized to care about it. But by the 1980s we did have neighborhood issues, and we held a series of meetings with some very angry people about what we were doing.
KATHE MCKENNA: The neighbors were organized against Haley House, and we invited them to talk about the issues. That was like lighting a firecracker, or worse.
DAVID MANZO: As painful as it was, it had long-term positive results. We weren’t going to just say, “We were here first, screw you.” We had to listen to each other, and we had to find some common ground. There were a lot of things that were fair concerns, but they had to realize we weren’t going anywhere. That wasn’t going to happen.
NOREEN MANZO: We believed that poor people had the right to live in good neighborhoods. People would say, “Sell your buildings, get a bunch of money, and you can do more for people [someplace else].” And we would say, “No, poor people have a right to live in good neighborhoods.”
JULIA MACLAUGHLIN: People are basically good.
KATHE MCKENNA: Yes, they are basically good, but it’s also good to have enemies who are jerks. And who are over the top and embarrassing and nobody wants to stand with them.
DAVID MANZO: In the early years you could be working a shift alone. At six o’clock in the morning, when the line was coming down Montgomery Street, you had to make very important decisions as kind of a young naive person of whether you were going to let someone in who might be drunk and out of control, and once they were inside it was a lot harder to get them out. The do-gooder in me wanted to let everybody in, but Kathe at one point said to me, “Think about the other person in the room. You may want to take care of them, but you may have five guys who were struggling with their sobriety and need the peace and quiet of Haley House.” It went to the core of my being. It was one of the first times I ever had to think about the other in my life besides what I wanted.
NOREEN MANZO: Haley House was this confusing place for me. I just couldn’t figure it out. I described it like an amoeba—you pushed here, and it went there. I needed more structure, I couldn’t handle the looseness of it. But in 1993, Haley House started doing some affordable housing work. We borrowed money for the first time, and with the borrowing came significant levels of accountability. So some board members put it on me to put policies and procedures [in place]. I figured it would take me two years and I would get on with my life, and that was 24 years ago … I was there for that long a time because while Haley House has a way of getting into your head, it also has a way of getting into your heart.
KATHE MCKENNA: Haley House stands in a very curious place [among homeless services providers]. The first main guy at Pine Street Inn, Paul Sullivan, lived in the live-in community at Haley House before he died. It was one of the few places he could come and literally let his hair down. It was also at Haley House that a group of people, including Kip Tiernan, who started Rosie’s Place, hung around. Against Kip’s wishes, two of the young people who lived in the community at Haley House wanted to do an overnight program, and Kip was opposed to it. They prevailed, and Rosie’s Place started an overnight program, which was the beginning of it being a true sanctuary.
NOREEN MANZO: We have an amazing amount of skills. But there’s not many of us who know about the running of buildings. We were blessed enough to have a number of buildings early on, and we’ve gotten better with it in time, but when I started working at Haley House there was no heat. I would work until my fingers got blue, and then I would go home. I would loosen up again, and I would come back and work more. We’ve all had those kind of experiences when you do things that would ordinarily be considered irrational, or stupid. But you need this, so of course you do it.
JOHN KLEIN (resident manager at single-room occupancy facility, former live-in community member): I’ve been with Haley House for a little over seven years. I came here by way of a bicycle from Richmond, Virginia. I had spent 20 years being the executive director of three successive nonprofits I had founded, and I had a really awful breakdown, a suicide attempt, and was having difficulty functioning at the level I had … I had studied a little bit about the Catholic Worker movement, and Haley House … had the most appeal to me of all the places I lived at. I applied and was there for three years … The live-in community was like a big frat house.
ROD OWENS (original Bakery Cafe manager): I started coming around the summer of 2002. I was a student in Boston doing an internship, and I came to Haley House through [the organization’s in-house magazine] What’s Up? … It was really busy. I found out about what was happening and started volunteering in the soup kitchen, and then I came back in ’03. I lived in the house for three years. I’ve done everything—What’s Up?, the soup kitchen, the live-in community, the bakery. I drove a delivery truck, I did baking training, I ran the shift on Saturday mornings.
JOHN KLEIN: We had a person in the live-in community when I was there. A wonderful guy. He had a good paying job, but suffered from bad depression. He lost his job and wouldn’t leave his apartment. When the money ran out, he was homeless, and he was homeless for years. He came to Haley House, and he started volunteering in the soup kitchen. The approach we use helped bring him out. The Catholic Worker tradition is a different type of approach—the personalist tradition in which we don’t just provide food but we sit down, get to know the guests, and try to build community. After he volunteered for a year, he applied for the live-in community and was accepted. By the time I came to Haley House he was doing everything. He had administrative skills, he was our IT person …
I found it uplifting. I was going through my second major depressive episode, and because I found their examples so powerful I thought maybe I should go to a depression group … I really had an awakening.
BING BRODERICK (executive director): A lot of people think the bakery started in 2005, when we opened in Dudley [Square], but it had been going before that [in a smaller location in the South End].
KATHE MCKENNA: The bakery training program started at Haley House at a moment in our history when we invited homeless men to be the community that ran the soup kitchen. Many would say it was a total disaster, but there were a lot of phenomenal things about it. One of them was it provoked us to figure out how to ensure that these guys could have some pocket money. A very simple thing but essential if they’re not going to turn around and steal …
The corner shop was a very cool, very nice outlet for the bakery products. I wrote grants that totaled $130,000, we got money for the shop and money to redo the soup kitchen. I couldn’t believe people were throwing money at us. I had never written a grant before.
NOREEN MANZO: We went from this isolated place that was fearsome, to this place many people mistook for the latest restaurant in the South End. And the soup kitchen became that much more of an inviting place. There are no secrets here.
JULIA MACLAUGHLIN: That’s the difference. In ’67, when you couldn’t see inside, we were protecting the men who were living on the street. And we always talked about how no one can look in and find somebody. That’s how we kept it. It was a very different world.
KATHE MCKENNA: We had a neighborhood that didn’t have bakery cafes yet, and so that grew nicely into a business that was actually making money. There was a point in time when we were breaking even—I think it was for 36 hours. When we outgrew it, it became clear that it needed its own space. It’s serendipitous—these things happened at a moment in history when were were trying to bring the bakery training program into a bigger context than just baking bread and serving people. The world was starting to understand that food was killing people, especially poor people … We said, “Let’s create a bakery cafe that has healthy food in a neighborhood that has nothing like it.” That’s when the stars aligned, and [Bakery Cafe start-up chef Didi Emmons] came along and helped us pull together the food piece.
JULIA MACLAUGHLIN: We would all be gathered around, and Kathe would come in and say, “Dudley. We should be in Dudley.” She would have felled all the trees to have us over there. [She] is a visionary in that way. She believed this could be done.
NOREEN MANZO: It was a huge leap of faith to go into Dudley. As with all of our other programs, it hit hurdles to start with. Now I understand that Haley House is the richer for the Bakery Cafe. It’s almost as if we learned how to adapt what is priceless to us, in terms of how to operate with people, and we have just expanded that in a whole new way.
ROD OWENS: Early on, sometimes [the Bakery Cafe] didn’t feel like it was worth it. It was so much, it was such a new idea. We were going to create this community. Everything is meaningful. Some people didn’t subscribe to that—had no idea what it meant. I came from the community, and we had these ways of engagement that we had to follow—we had active engagement, we had meetings all the time. It was this idea that you had this agency and respect for one another. That there was no hierarchy, you’re all equal. I brought that idea to the cafe, and we were all working at it, but it was this business, so ultimately somebody had to have the final say.
KATHE MCKENNA: The power of the Bakery Cafe is our philosophy was manifest in everything that happened, and everybody could see it, feel it, taste it.
ROD OWENS: We just put our heads together [to develop the dishes and recipes]. That was the beautiful part about it. We would have a sandwich special, and that would turn into a regular menu item. I was always grateful for the space [given to] me to create … That’s how it was. We would question each other and hold each other accountable.
BING BRODERICK: A lot of the time [at the Bakery Cafe], especially in the early years, we were figuring it out as we went along. About two weeks after we opened, a customer came up to me and asked if we could do a platter of wraps. I said, “Sure,” and went out and bought a platter because we didn’t have one. It was the beginning of our catering business, which wasn’t part of our original plan but is now the biggest part of our business.
CAROL KONG (Bakery Cafe operations director): When I first started I hired a gentleman who was in prison for 15 years. We sent this man to interview with our [then-]culinary director, and I remember her hesitation because he had been away for murder. I interviewed him, and I was just so taken with him. He came in a blue shirt, all sweaty, rode his bike just to be there early … He came on, and he kind of reinvented the training program, and that’s when we really started hiring men and women coming out of prison.
KATHE MCKENNA: Initially the training program started with guys coming up out of the soup kitchen, and it was pragmatic, it was a way to get them money. And training, and skills, but when we moved to Dudley and started the cafe, we had a business, food, all this infrastructure. So the training program, nobody was in charge of it. We didn’t have enough money, so it just kind of got carried along. Until that.
BING BRODERICK: We had a wait list of 50 people for five spaces. There is something powerful about people sharing their skills with people across different situations. But we weren’t able to work with people in a deeper way, and that’s what happened when we started the transitional program … It’s all about relationships. It’s all about scaling up, and increasing impact, but you can’t do that at the expense of the relationships.
CAROL KONG: What we do now is hire men and women coming out of prison. A lot of folks are in halfway houses and different places and stuff. We try to build these people back up, because a lot of them have been torn down so much … It’s about being able to move on from your mistakes, because people are so used to being smacked every time they do something … A lot of these men and women have never had anybody to care about them, and that’s why forgiveness is such a big thing. Also setting expectations and consequences … We call the Bakery Cafe a safe place, an oasis. And people are very protective of that.
KATHE MCKENNA: [Haley House’s pizzeria that opened last year] Dudley Dough grew out of the Bakery Cafe, and out of Haley House. Haley House was an octopus, a good, rich octopus, but it couldn’t be replicated.
JOHN KLEIN: I feel like Haley House really gave me my life back. It’s given a lot more to me than I have given back.
NOREEN MANZO: In our mission statement we talk about challenging the structures that perpetuate injustice, and that’s something we try to do in our housing program, it’s something that we try to do with our guests in the soup kitchen, and it’s certainly something we try to do in the Bakery Cafe. It’s not enough to just put a Band-Aid over the ill.
BING BRODERICK: We say that everybody has something to teach, everybody has something to learn. And one of the core values at Haley House is mixing it up, because that’s how you find that.
NOREEN MANZO: There’s just not that much that separates us. Eventually I realized it was either bad luck or bad decision-making [that led to poverty]. But for that, it could be my mom, my brother, my sister, or my aunt who found themselves penniless or in a shelter on the streets.
CAROL KONG: I feel [Haley House] is a lifestyle. It becomes your life, it’s how we identify ourselves … It’s kind of weird how we have different ideas of what Haley House is. I think it’s kind of changed and grown into all this other stuff that maybe we made up in our heads it is supposed to be.
BING BRODERICK: We’re not [encumbered] by convention. We are challenged to think differently, and we always have been. I think that is what led to all of those things. When we did something like start the transitional employment program, I don’t think we realized the potential impact of what we were doing. Nor do I think we understood the appreciation for what we were doing. But we were acknowledging something that was happening.
DAVID MANZO: People come to this place and are changed in some way, and it takes a lot of patience to make that happen.
NOREEN MANZO: We identified what needed to get done, and we said, “Are we the ones who can do this? Or is there someone who can do this better?” There was nothing we were going to do to put the soup kitchen in jeopardy, and we were going to do what we had to do to keep it running. We looked at things organically.
KATHE MCKENNA: Poverty is the problem. The economic divide, underpinned by utter racism, is the problem. If people had money they would make better choices. People who are rich are doing stupid things every day, but they have the money to cover it up.