Alisha Bernard began singing when she was very young, found success performing throughout New England and had an opportunity to sign a record deal. But even as her voice soared, she struggled with personal challenges; depression and drug use. Ultimately, that professional opportunity was lost.
She found herself as a guest at Woods-Mullen, an emergency women’s shelter in Boston’s South End. It was there that, despite her struggles, she decided it was time to create a life for herself that she loved. With the support of staff, she began to rebuild. She now has a fulfilling job that she is proud of with the potential for career advancement, and will have permanent housing in the near future.
Bernard was part of the planning committee that welcomed Mayor Marty Walsh to the Woods-Mullen Shelter Open House on Friday. The shelter underwent a $1.5 million renovation as part of the Imagine Boston 2030 Capital Plan. The Open House marked the completion of the first round of renovations, and served as an opportunity for Walsh to assess the progress, recognize the accomplishments so far and discuss the improvements that are yet to come.
The home hummed with excitement for the Mayor’s arrival and the celebration of the milestone. Guests and staff wore Woods-Mullen’s signature purple, and lilac balloons and flowers filled the building. Director of Emergency Shelter Services Liz Henderson said that the event was thoughtfully planned and executed by the guests.
“It was really their vision and how they wanted to celebrate this new beginning for Woods-Mullen,” Henderson said.
Walsh cut a purple ribbon in front of the newly renovated facilities and was given a tour of the second floor where the changes took place. According to Henderson, renovations included the addition of 22 beds, a new lounge area, and confidential office spaces where guests can meet privately with social workers, case workers, housing workers and outreach workers.
Henderson said the renovations had a minimal effect on the shelter’s operations. Staff had to relocate beds to an adjacent building for two weeks, but otherwise the shelter functioned normally. The next phase of construction will include a new entryway, improvements to the first floor, bathroom renovations, and a new elevator to be used exclusively by the women at Woods-Mullen.
Officials aim to make the shelter akin to a temporary home operated by the Boston Public Health Commission that gives women a safe and dignified place to sleep as well as the resources, counseling, training and experience needed to secure permanent housing, employment, and other goals that guests have.
“When I came here and looked around, I saw a building, and people living in a building. I didn’t see a home,” Walsh, recounting his first visit to Woods-Mullen in 2014. “I didn’t see warmth. I didn’t see welcoming. I did from the people and I did from the staff that worked here that day. But I didn’t see what I think is important for us to respect human dignity.”
He said that post-renovations, the second floor of the building better aligns with his vision of what the shelter should be. In his address to the room, he stated his belief that one day homelessness in Boston can be eradicated completely. In the meantime, he outlined the ways the city will ensure Woods-Mullen is operating at its fullest potential, including the next round of renovations that will start either by the end of 2018 or next spring. He stressed that the services provided are meant to be temporary, and that the true goal is to get people into permanent housing.
“Regardless of what your past brought, regardless of what happened in your past, it’s always about looking forward and looking ahead,” he said. “We are going to do everything we can…to make sure that the days ahead of you are the best days for you.”
As part of a presentation of speeches and testimonials from other guests, Bernard sang beautifully in front of the entire room, to rousing cheers and applause. While singing may be in her future, she is most excited about her new housing, being with her family, working, and maybe even returning to the shelter to work or give back in some way. “I’m happy,” she said. “I wake up in the morning and I have a reason to be. Without this place I wouldn’t be that way.”