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April 13, 2024 21 mins
Homelessness can impact anyone, and it doesn't always take much to get you to that point - even one or two life events can completely up-end your path. John Lane is someone who knows that all too well. John was living a comfortable life when addiction struck and took him down a path of very hard lessons. Now, John has come full circle, and he's teamed up with Pine Street Inn to use his life experience to help others who are struggling. John is on the show this week to tell his story, offer advice, and share information about Pine Street Inn's permanent supportive housing services.
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Episode Transcript

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From WBZ News Radio in Boston.This is New England Weekend. Each week
we come together and talk about allthe topics important to you and the place
where you live. It is sogood to be back with you this week.
I'm Nicole Davis. We've talked aboutthis on the show before. How
just one or two life events,even things that seem minor at the time,
can totally upend your path. JohnLane is somebody who unfortunately knows that

all too well. See, likemany others here in the Boston area,
in his twenties, he was livingthe life. He had a comfortable job,
he was a vice president, hehad a college degree from bu But
then addiction struck and it took himdown a path of hard lessons. Now
John has come full circle and he'steamed up with Pine Street in and he's
using his life experience to help othersin the same boat. Let's talk with

John now learn a bit more abouthis story. John, I appreciate your
time. Thank you too for yourwillingness to be so open about how all
this played out. How long wereyou unhoused for I was homeless for oh
god, five and a half years, you know, in the system in
the homeless system that we think ofnow with shelters and food pantries and drop

in centers and all that for aboutfive and I didn't do anything for three
years. I was full blown alcoholic. You know. The only money I
got would always go to booze.Why you know, why not. Someone
was paying for my food, mylaundry, someone was paying my cosmetics.
And it was about three years beforeI even applied for holmlessess. I entered
this program called Pine Street anchor Inand it was on Long Island. This

was before the bridge had gone down. And the thing with Pine Street anchor
In which you got to keep yourbed save bed and you got a big
foot locker as well as the littlehalf sized high school locker that you got,
you know, if you stayed atone twelve or which didn't exist at
the time, if you stayed onthe island at the regular shelter, if
you stayed at Woods Mullen, whichwas co you know, both genders at

the time. So I didn't Ijust like for three years, did not
even think of applying. I didn'tcare. I went day to day to
day. So I want to goto this anchor in for the bed thing
and for the locker. Really andmy case manager when I finally get in
the program is this woman named Brenda, And I wish I knew her last
name because I certainly would have alot of letters to write her to thank

She went to the state and Idon't know where she went from there,
but she was a Pine Street casemanager. Do you have insurance? Do
you get food stamps? You know, all that kind of stuff that we
do. And she said, John, you are doing nothing. You have
absolutely no reason to not apply,and if you don't fill out all these
papers within the week, you won'tbe here. And she kept giving me
these tasks to keep me. Youknow, you had to sort of a

little bit more high threshold than someof the programs are shelters, because they
were trying to get you ready toget into housing. And she gave me
a piece of advice that I giveto every single person I ever meet who
is looking for housing, who wasexperiencing homelessness. When you apply for PHA,
which is going to be the likelyyou know for most people, it's
going to be the largest pool ofpossibility. The biggest problem we find in

getting housing is loss of connection.So many times I'm working with somebody or
you know, I volunteered a coupleof drop in centers. Go there to
ninety nine Chauncey. Every two weeks, write your name and social security number
on a post it and shove itin their face at the desk and say,
has there been any mail for me? Had there been any calls for
me? If there have, you'renot going to miss them. If there

aren't, going two more weeks.But that way you'll never miss it.
I did that. I did thatall the way through till I got my
housing. To be honest, Ihad to post office box. I wasn't
really worried about missing mail, andI didn't and I had my phone.
I didn't lose my phone, soI wasn't. But the advice, even
if I didn't need it, standsincredibly strong, because how many times do

I talk to somebody and they say, oh, yeah, I was working
with this guy David, I wasworking with this guy Steve, and I
was at the Victory programs and thenI went to Bay going, you know,
And it's the kind of thing isit's so many people trying to help
you, but they're sometimes doing itat cross purposes, and sometimes they're doing
it at Loggerheads. You know,I know for a fact that bahay,
they're under the gun. They gota lot of work to do. And

if seven different applications for John Laneshow up on someone's desk, that's going
to be put on the desk ofthe things to do when I have time,
otherwise known as the track. Soyou know, you're sometimes having too
many people can hurt you, butyou don't know all these things because of
the loss of connection, right,and so that advice really was what propelled

me, not so much that Ineeded, but it gave me the oh,
yeah, this is doable, thisis very doable, this is not
hopeless. And it still took abouttwo years. It was longer to get
helas back then than it is now. But I got the apartment. And
the thing is, I went inthere just as much of an alcoholic as
I was when I was homeless.A couple of years, a few years
to get into and I gotten Itry to avoid saying the name, but

I got into a twelve step programfor people who have too much to drink.
You know, that saved me inmany ways. But the thing that
really truly did it was back intwenty seventeen, I got involved with an
organization called Common Cathedral writing downtown Boston. If anybody's ever walked through the Common
on a nice Sunday at one o'clock, if you've ever seen that big wooden

cross and that group of people sortof not proselytizing, but just sort of
praying together, sort of you knowwhen a circle anyone can join, but
we're not working it out. Andthat really sort of gave me some purpose
and mission, a little bit ofa hint of it. And the woman
who ran that at the time,who was actually now the assistant director of
winter Walk, Amanda grant Rose,was just perhaps more important than anybody but

me in terms of getting to besober. She asked me, within a
couple of months of meeting me tobe on the board of Common Cathedral because
they want someone to live experience,and I did. I was still drinking,
and I actually I showed up ata board meeting too intoxicated to be
there, and they had to Basicallythey didn't have a quorum, so they

had a meeting, but they couldn'tlegally have a meeting, and their lawyer
had to send a note to theStatehouse however that works. And that was
the first board I've ever been on. I haven't done on a lot of
them since. I don't know aboutyou, but I pretty much would think
if somebody showed up to my boardmeeting drunk, nice guy, get rid
of that. Yeah, when Amandasaid to the board, I don't know,

I think John still has something tooffer us, and I know we
have something to offer him. Andthey kept me around and that really comes
cemented mission and I was like,Okay, well, I need to stop
drinking. I don't know how todo it, so I reached out to
some people who did and you know, so far knock wood as it were.
And if I make it to Mayeleventh, god willing sober, I

will have five years of continuous sobriety. Congratulations, keep going with it.
It's wonderful. It's wonderful for me, but it is certainly not. It's
a group effort. Absolutely, everythingfrom you know, the support I get
from from groups, to the supportthat I get from my church families,
to the fact that my mom stillon the eleventh of every month writes a

happy four years and nine months now. So it's all a team effort.
It's you know, I hate touse it. It takes the village,
but it really does for anything.Absolutely. And then I spent my time
with Common Cathedral. I rolled offthe board. That was right at the
time that I was getting sober,and it was also March twenty twenty,
and there wasn't anything going on.No, no, no massive world event

that was happening in March twenty twenty. It wasn't happening quite yet. It
was happening a few Oh, thiswas pre that thing. Yes, this
is about a week before. Yeah, And I was not really working at
that time. I was kind ofI had worked at an Army and Avy
store and you know, a coupleof but I applied for a job with

the Boston Public Health Commission, workingin their shelters, and I got the
job. I went into the interview, they hired me, My job was
going to start, and all ofa sudden, COVID boomed like, you,
we're not filling that job, butyou can go up to our COVID
hotel up on fifteen fifteen, youknow, in Brighton on Commat and so
I did that, and then theyrealized all the COVID patients could go to

Boston Pope the convention center, andso we just became a bleedoff center from
one twelve for the people who perhapsdidn't want to be near Atkinson Street,
Southampton and the tents and such.And so I ended up working for them
for four years, and I onlycame to Pine Street in September, back
right as pandemic was starting to go. This building was being discussed one forty

Clarendon where I work now, whichis a Pine Street building that we provide
wrap around support services, but wedon't own the building, and we don't
pay for the apartments. This isBEHA apartments owned by a Beacon Communities,
which is a private organization. Theyare the landlord, they own the building.
BHA pays the lion's share of theapartments, just like they do for

any of their other developments, andthen based on income thirty percent all of
the residents pay, just like anyother BAHA property. But then you add
it in Pine Street, and youadd in case managers and residents' lifestaff,
and just all around a lot moreattention for these folks than they would get

if they went to say where Ilive at Charlestown breaks or if they went
you know, to Academy Homes oryou know, or Bromley Heath or something
where they just give your keys andyou know, play your rent on time,
have a great life here. Wereally feel that this is the model.
For years we were housing first.Now it is supportive housing first.

It's really the Mantra and this isa big building, it's a big project.
And of course we are located inCompley Square next to the Hankai Tower.
We get a lot of attention.But what drew me to this building,
what drew me to this is whenthey were discussing it. Kenzie Bach,
who is now the head of BHAbut used to be the district counselor.

She let's be honest, she calledAmanda and asked Amanda to be on
the Article eighty committee to handle allthe zoning complaints, the nimby stuff.
And Amanda said, I'm too busy, wanted to ask John. That's how
Kenny called me. I'm sure sureI was not her first choice, but
I was the guy who at thetime, and so I got to be

on the Article eighty committee for thisbuilding, for the zoning process with what
I call the back bay busy bodiespastor Nancy from Old South Church who retired
a year ago. Nancy, Ithink her last name is Marshaun from Woman's
Lunch Place, my buddy Greg Halseyfrom Trinity Church, and so a whole

bunch of people who were really predisposedto want to help people experiencing homelessness,
and so they kind of stacked thecommittee. And so we went through a
bunch of online hearings and got alot of feedback, some of it positive,
some of it not so positive.One person who lives nearby was afraid
that the residents of this building mighteat her dog when she was taking her

dog out for I know, I'msorry, I couldn't believe I heard it
either, but you know, andwe explained to her, and then basically
I explained to her that was mywhole job on that was to be the
you know, when they said,well, you don't know, you know,
you're you're just moving into the neighborhood. You don't know what it's like
to live next to homeless people,and I'd say, well, actually,
actually, but I live with alot of them. And so when I

saw that this was, you know, an available job opening at this building,
all right, I made the decisionto leave about a month before they
cleared Atkinson Street. But you know, I was working in harm reduction.
I was working at one twelve andon the low threshold people coming. You
know, I'd done it for acouple of years, and you know,

going through that takes an emotional toll, going through that street every day,
it takes an emotional toll. AndI just like you know, we kept
people alive, We kept people fed, we kept people housed. They could
use the bathroom facilities. But myjob when I was working there, i
was working overnights, was basically,the building doesn't burn down and no one
dies. I'm a raging success there. You go. It's important work,

but you can't really write home tomom about it. Hey, guess what
great happened? The thing happened.I kept the guy from dying because I
narcandem Oah, great, good job. And you know, the shelter's do
extraordinary important work Pine Street, thecity and other shelters, but they are
not the most happy place on earth. And I really wanted to get to
a place where I could see peoplereally starting to come alive. And that's

the beauty of what I'm doing.Right now. Being here is everybody hears
howse So everybody here has had avictory and they've gotten a taste of it,
and so now my job is tohelp them navigate the system to get
to you know, the very bestplace that they can be. Some of
my residents are you know, workfull time. And you know, I've

got one resident who calls me everycouple of weeks just because he knows it's
my job. And I got toyou know, talk to him once a
month. So he calls me.He's basically case managing me. He does
not need a single thing for meother than a friendly voice every now and
again. And then I have otherresidents who call me five times a week,
and that perhaps a little too faron. That's supportive, it's supportive,

and however it shows up, it'svery supportive. But the whole point
is is that being here, weare really not working. You know.
Supportive housing is the name for it, and it's certainly the tideline. But
we are doing right here as communitybuilding. We have dingo nights, we
have movie nights, we have snacks. We have you know, not accounts,

but sort of connections with people whodonate sandwiches, you know, food
inside, so we've got you know, and Beacon has been a great partner.
They've been putting on a wonderful event. They had a chamber quartet come,
They've got a jazz lunch coming upnext week. I mean, it's
just amazing stuff that Beacon, theproperty owner, is trying to do.

They did took folks out to atour of some lit village for Christmas and
then brought them to Walmart so theycan do Christmas shopping. We're all still
figuring it out. None of usis, you know, quite sure who's
supposed to do exactly what all thetime, right, But but it is
really a phenomenal place to experiment.And that's one of the things that we're

doing. You know. We wealways remind ourselves that we are building this
boat as we're sailing. We reallyare, you know. So of course
you're gonna have to bail every nowand again. Things aren't gonna go perfect,
But everybody here is here with aspirit of you know, it's an
adventure. It's it's it's it's ajob where you know, Okay, I
don't know exactly what's going to happen. I don't. I don't know how

this is all to be accomplished.I just know that we'll find a way
to do it. This is obviouslyhuge, it's a huge victory. You've
come full circle. But what wouldyour advice be for somebody who might be
listening, who's taking in your storyand maybe relating to it a little too
closely, you know, but they'renot really sure how to take that step
to reach out to that mutual aidto that community. To be honest,
the only thing I can really tellpeople, you know, my job is

doing a lot of applying for SSIand GTA and you know, you name
the social service agency I'm calling them. But the first thing I would tell
anybody who's feeling like they're having areally, really difficult time is to go.
And certainly I'm partial to the onesI work and volunteer at, but
certainly there are many, many otherfantastic places. I've got lists of people.

Go to these places, see ifyou like it, and if you
do, find a way to becomea volunteer so that it is not,
you know, a model of someoneserving someone, it's a model of a
group serving themselves. Certainly, theplaces that I volunteer at that is as
much a conception as we would likeit to be. You know, sometimes
there's you know, you have realitiesthat you can't because of health codes or

whatever. You can have certain people, you know, but most of the
time you can find a way tobe an assistant to a place that is
giving you help. And that's whatI really loved. I mean, that's
what I did. I went theday I went to Common Cathedral to one
of their drop in centers. Ididn't go because I felt like helping out
at Common Cathedral. I went becauseI wanted a cup of coffee. Here's

here's some places to go. Thereare many others. There's you know,
I just know the core or sortof from you know, Government center down
to mass and cast but you knowthat's just a very small There's lots of
places to be and go and findout how you can be useful there.
Because that more than anything. Imean, I could couch it in religious

terms, I could couch it inspiritual terms, but finding that sense of
mission or at least purpose, waswhat did it for me. I had
I found something I wanted to domore than I wanted to continue drinking.
And that you know, I couldn'ttell you exactly how I've stayed sober this
long. I mean, it's manydifferent people and the spiritual entities and such.

But one thing that I do knowis that finding something that meant to
me more than drinking that was whatwhat did it. So I would say
to anybody who's listening who may befeeling like, oh God, my life
is spiraling down or is in thesituation where they're experiencing homelessness, and you
know, maybe they're not in Boston, so they don't know all the resource,
they don't have all the resources,but they're all there's always going to

be some out there and they alwaysneed help, and if you've got time,
you can go and help them.And as a bonus, you'll get
free food that makes everything worth it, frankly, a snatch of coffee.
I mean, come on. Sothat's that's the whole point for me when
I'm talking to somebody and I'm saying, getting involved in that will take your

mind off of it, and we'llmake you connections, and we'll get you
in touch with people who probably havea little bit more knowledge about how to
work the system. And it feelsgreat, and it just is a way
to get you know, instead ofbeing for me, it's how can I
even with my limited resources, Ihave time and I have my ability to
be there, and you know,most people have the strength to scoop out

a thing, a rice or something. Right, the biggest gift that folks
can get is just time and attention. I care about what they're doing.
But because to be honest, I'vebeen there. You know, I've been
the guy. I've been the guywho had literally my backpack and all my
possessions stolen. So at one pointin the shelter, I had a drawstring

bag that some nice person to givein me the clothes I was wearing,
and you know, maybe a coupleof pairs of socks underwhere that someone had
let me, you know, giveme. And so I've been there and
it sucks. I don't want togo back. No, I don't want
to see anybody else there. Andthat's you know, Boston has. You
know, there's a totally different conversationBoston's homeless issues. Boston does it very

very well. Though. I willsay we're about as good as anywhere,
and what that means is we area net attractor. So many people come
here. I know so many peoplenamed Tampa and Vegas and Seattle because that's
where they're from, and they knew, get your last three hundred bucks,
get on that Greyhound and get toBoston. Because if you step off the
bus in Boston South Station and youmeet me, I can take you to

health Care for the Homeless or BMC. I can get you on mass Health
and can get your appointment with thePCP next week. You go to Kansas,
you can't even get Kansas Medicaid untilyou're a resident for nine months,
and you're basically just going to theemergency room. Massachusetts was smart enough to
know that costs more than if weensure you're right away. But that does
bring people here. And then we'rein Boston. You got not only do

you have insurance, you've got healthcareyou can find nowhere else on the planet.
Absolutely, so we attract people.We have really great NGOs, you
know, other organizations. We havea strong city response. We've got amazing
private organizations like Pine Street doing hugework. We've got so many other different
groups that they're involved. So it'ssuch a good place to come because of

the resources. But what that meansis we're not going to solve it Boston,
because we'd have to solve it forthe world, or for at least
the country, because everyone will keepcoming. It's a perpetuating problem. It's
got to be a global or atleast country wide solution. But we know
how to do it. I mean, there's no mystery. There is not
one mystery as to why we can'tdo this. It's simply do we have

the resources, do we have thecreative thinking to create partnerships private and public
like this here at Clarendon, Anddo we have the will to do it?
John is working right now over atone forty Clarendon. That is Pine
Street, In's latest permanent supportive development. They have a lot of great programs
going on at Pine Street. Ifyou're curious to find out more about Pine

Street, in about this housing,if you want to donate you want to
help, head to pinestreetin dot orgagain pinestreein dot org. Have a safe
and healthy weekend. Please join meagain next week for another edition of the
show. I'm Nicole Davis from WBZNews Radio on iHeartRadio.
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