By John Lynds
When Audrey Sivikas left as Director of Crossroads Family Shelter in East Boston in 2013, there was a huge void to be filled. After several interim directors that did not have the same impact as Sivikas, it seemed Crossroads had all been forgotten in the neighborhood until Rachael Hennessey-Crowell arrived in October.
On the job now for nine months, Hennessey-Crowell has settled into her new role as Director of Crossroads and is working to make the homeless shelter’s profile well known again in the community through outreach, legislative breakfasts and partnership with other Eastie organizations.
In a job that calls for being part advocate, part politician, part fundraiser, Crowell, like her predecessors, has worked day and night in the community fighting for more opportunities and funding for homeless programs while bringing attention to the epidemic of homelessness facing Eastie and the rest of the city and state.
Hennessey-Crowell, a Natick native who graduated from Boston College in 2011 and later received a Master’s Degree and MBA from the school, had past experience in social work but said she wanted a more hands on job that dealt directly with a community based organization rather than lending administrative support to those organizations.
“I worked closely with St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children as Assistant Director of Boston College’s PULSE program (which educates students about social injustice by putting them into direct contact with marginalized populations and social change organizations),” said Hennessey-Crowell. “I was yearning to do something more community orientated instead of just supporting community based organizations like Crossroads. I wanted something with direct community involvement.”
In mid October last year, Hennessey-Crowell landed in Eastie at Crossroads and began rebuilding a 31 year neighborhood institution were twenty seven families at any one time could call Crossroads home.
“It was a whole new team when I arrived,” said Hennessey-Crowelll. “We have worked really hard in the past nine months to build a team and a team that knows how taxing this work is.”
Hennessey-Crowell said the business of helping homeless families out of homelessness is not done for the pay check but for the satisfaction of helping a woman or a child.
“The team we’ve built knows how hard the work is and it is work that is 24 hours a day where you have on call responsibilities and it is work that is really hard both physically and emotionally.”
With 95 percent of Crossroads Funding to help the over 80 families a year that are transitioned out of homelessness coming from the shelter’s contract with the state, Hennessey-Crowell said money still needs to be raised to make life a little bit better and more comfortable for families.
“One of my main goals is rehabbing the physical space,” said Hennessey-Crowell. “This is a super old building with a lot of aches and pains so to get money for a project like that would be great because it is a huge area of need for us right now.”
Since its inception in 1985, Crossroads Family Shelter has become an oasis of hope—providing shelter for countless families in the area. Over the past year Hennessey-Crowell’s commitment to the shelter’s cause heightened her profile as an important community activist.
Throughout the year, she has held several successful open houses and legislative breakfasts where local elected officials were invited to discuss legislation and budget issues that may affect funding to programs like Crossroads.
At the same time these events celebrated Crossroad’s work, provided testimony from current and former residents while raising much-needed funds and awareness for the program.
“What is great about Crossroads is the community support and how much the families here become part of the community,” said Hennessey-Crowell. “I feel so lucky we are here because many families want to stay and want to be part of this community when they transition out of homelessness.”
However, Hennessey-Crowell cautioned that sadly that may not be the case for many families and have to go were space is available when subsidized permanent housing becomes available.
“Upon exit from shelter we do regular follow up visits for a year with our families,” said Hennessey-Crowell. “This gives them comfort that there is a support network no matter were they may end up.”
In the end, Hennessey-Crowell said her experience so far in Eastie has been nothing but positive.
“It’s a great community that has a lot of support and we’ve been able to work alongside some great organizations like Project Bread, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and the East Boston CDC to really join forces to help a lot of these families that come through our doors annually,” said Hennessey-Crowell.