Kip Tiernan Gone, But Not Forgotten

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By James Shearer

I was watching the news on the morning of July 4th, and the news crew was busy focusing its attention on the preparations for that evening’s fireworks display as usual, when they cut away only for a brief moment to announce that Kip Tiernan had passed away.

I never knew Kip. In fact I never met her; the closest I had ever come was when I was selling copies of Spare Change News in Copley Square in the early days of the paper, in the early 1990s. She would come walking by, hands behind her back, her trademark cross around her neck. She never brought a paper from me but there was always a kind smile not one of pity more like an encouraging one.

I don’t know if she knew who I was, but I knew who she was — she was, is, and always will be the inspiration for me and other advocates who owe her a debt of gratitude. Kip dug a path for the rest of us to follow, and we’ve been stumbling along it trying to fill her very large shoes ever since.

For those of you who don’t know, one could say Kip Tiernan pretty much started the whole homeless movement by herself. Her resume reads like a who’s who of programs that serve the needy. She has either founded or helped found the Boston Food Bank, Health Care for the Homeless, Community Works, Aid to Incarcerated Mothers, Victory House, the Boston Emergency Shelter Commission, etc., etc. Get the picture?

But Kip is most well known for founding Rosie’s Place, the first-in-the-nation homeless shelter for women, and by doing so shed a light on the plight of single adult homeless women, a subject that for the most part receives little or no attention compared to their male counterparts.

Over the years Rosie’s has comforted and helped thousands of women get back on their feet by providing a safe warm place to stay. If you’ve never been homeless, you have no idea how important that is when things are tough. All of the agencies that Kip helped create have also saved lives, feed the needy, and give voice to those without one. It’s safe to say that all of us that have benefited from most of these services owe Kip a profound thank you.

And yet despite all that she has done not once did she ever put her ego ahead of what she was doing, remaining humble and true to her calling. This paper has more than once over the years tried to interview her. But instead she always directed us to Rosie’s Place, preferring for us to focus on the wonderful work that was going on there instead of herself. (There’s a lesson there somewhere).

Kip leaves behind her long-time partner whom she married in 2004, a step-daughter, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. She also leaves behind a legacy of selflessness by serving those less fortunate and a host of advocates who like me are encouraged by her actions to carry out our own.

Kip Tiernan was 85, and she will be sorely missed.

JAMES SHEARER is a board president and a co-founder of Spare Change News.

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