Marianna Bucina Roca

Marianna Bucina Roca: A small gesture changes everything (#41)

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Our guest today: Marianna Bucina Roca

Today on the Feisworld Podcast, you will meet Mariann Bucina Roca, an Executive Director from the Friends of Boston’s Homeless (FOBH). Did you know that Boston is a pioneer in addressing the needs of the homeless? As part of this movement, FOBH plays a key role in helping homeless individuals transition from the streets and shelters to lead stable, independent lives. One main focus for FOBH is to remove the final barriers that city and state programs don’t have the means to address.

I invited Mariann, who has devoted 20 years of her life to speak about a variety of programs offered by FOBH in the City of Boston including: Housing First, vocational training, workforce development, adult education, employment services,  transitional and permanent affordable housing, as well as the emergency shelters.

In the past 5 years, I’ve attended every one of FOBH’s annual events, thanks to Matt Lindley, a Board Member at FOBH, and a lifelong friend and mentor.

In addition to FOBH, I hope you will learn something about Mariann, whose journey in helping not-for-profit organizations started long before FOBH. Her earliest memory goes back to when she was just a little girl in Chicago.

Mariann didn’t choose an easy or a conventional path. During our conversation, she speaks to her joy and challenges, and reasons behind why she continues to fuel her passion with creativity and devotion. As a result of, Mariann told me that “90% of the people do not return to homelessness” and “FOBH has a proven business model other cities can model after.”

Chasity SLIDER | Feisworld

Tara Brach, meditation teacher, said the following on her podcast:

Devotional Practices: The sacred feminine expresses the realization of our belonging, our innate interdependence with all of life

Beloved Community points to our potential for living together with love, justice and respect.

To learn more about FOBH, please visit their website, Facebook, YouTube (Success Stories videos) and learn more about these amazing volunteer opportunities.

I also want to dedicate this episode to the Founder and President of FOBH, John Rosenthal for helping homeless people in need for over 25 years.

Show Notes:

  • Why was Boston considered a pioneer in addressing homeless needs? [5:30]
  • How is FOBH structured (so that it can support the various programs offered in Boston)? [8:30]
  • Why does FOBH believe in teaching homeless individuals skills they can use? [10:30]
  • Mariann’s childhood stories (where it all began) [17:30]
  • How do others go about getting involved at FOBH? [22:15]
  • The Annual “Beyond Shelter” Gala [23:45]
  • “Project Lighthouse” – education and employment resource program [25:15]
  • “Homeless people are just like the rest of us. By just BEING THERE is helpful” [27:30]
  • How do people overcome the fear of talking to homeless people? [33:15]
  • How did Mariann see homeless differently when she was young girl? [35:45]
  • Can homelessness be solved? The Housing First Initiative [40:00]
  • “Give them the roots” – the importance of providing housing first [45.15]
  • 90% of the people do NOT return to homelessness [51:30]
  • FOBH has a business model other cities can learn from [52:00]

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Marianna Bucina Roca 0:08
Everyone has a hope and a dream for themselves in their future. But there’s a lot around each of us that needs to happen that often doesn’t in people’s lives. Because of all the opportunities that were afforded to us, we also had an opportunity to help others in the world. And when really an obligation to companionship means a lot to homeless individuals who, you know, often people don’t even look at them on the street. You know, that’s why I say even serving a meal just by being there and interacting and talking with people is helpful, because homeless people are so marginalized.

Fei Wu 0:53
Hello, everyone, welcome to the face world podcast. This is your host, Fei Woo. So easy enough. This is the podcast that reflects my life, the people I aspire to become some I have known for years, but some I am speaking with, for the very first time, very daunting task at first. But I think after eight months of constant practice releasing about one episode every week, I have gotten used to it. By that I mean, I started to forgive myself for not asking the perfect questions, jumping into the right time, always, but rather just go with the flow flux as we go along in the conversation. Some of the questions I love asking my guests are, what are some of the things you don’t carry on the surface of yourself? Or what are some of the questions that you wish people to ask you but haven’t yet. Then from there, what I will do is compile a blog post with the audio tracks that you can listen directly on my website called FaZe world, Fei s wo rld. There you can also find show notes, links, tools and resources. So there’s no reason to take notes. If you hear a name you’re interested, explore further or a book you want to maybe check it out on Amazon. So all that information will be readily available on my website. So today on my show, you will meet Maryanne Musina. She is an executive director from the friends of Boston homeless short for F OBh. Did you know that Boston was a what they called a pioneer in addressing homeless needs. As part of this movement, friends of Boston homeless played a very significant part for helping homeless individuals transition from the streets and shelters to lead stable independent lives. Friends of Boston homeless supports a number of vital programs in the city of Boston including housing, first vocational training and workforce development, Adult Education, Employment Services, so forth and so on. In the past five years, I’ve been invited to attend every single one of their annual events. So thanks to Matt Lindley, who appeared on an earlier episode. And he is a board member at FOB ah, and a lifelong friend and mentor of mine. In addition to friends of Boston homeless. Via this episode, I hope you also learn something about my special guest, Marianne, who has devoted nearly 20 years for life, two friends of Boston homeless, but her journey and helping not for profit organizations actually started much earlier, tracing back to when she was just a little girl. I often wondered about how people choose a path and helping people other people in need. It’s easier said than done. What are the daily joy and challenges Marianne has to face? And more importantly, how can you play a part that changes our world for the better? Perhaps it starts with a smaller mission, a drone city. Recently, I was listening to Tara Brock’s podcast, Tara is a meditation teacher. And she said in her podcast called the devotional practices. The Sacred Feminine expresses the realization of our belonging, our innate interdependence with all of life. Helping others helps us open our longing to belong, which is universal longing. We want to be at home. In this case, let’s build homes for those who are in need. I also want to dedicate this episode to the founder and president of this organization, friends of Boston homeless. His name is John Rosenthal, for helping homeless people in need for over 25 years. Without further ado, Please welcome Marian bosina

I am so pleased to have you here. I’ve been feeling so excited about this interview to talk about friends of Boston homeless, an organization I feel like I should be more deeply involved in since four or five years ago, I’ve been going to the annual event for them many years. So how long have you

Marianna Bucina Roca 5:30
been with a long time? I started in 1997, I think? No way. Yeah, 90s. I think 97 Don’t quote me on that. I haven’t thought about that in a while. It’s been a long time. No worries. It was in the late 90s. Yeah, so I started a long time ago, you know, I was doing a whole bunch of international work in Latin, specifically in Latin America, specifically around new tropical conservation, and sustainable development with NGOs there. And I was just kind of ready to to focus on a local issue. My husband got a job in Boston. So we moved here. And I just decided, you know, rather than keep doing the international stuff, it was time to think about something that was right in my community, I went out to Long Island, which is where all the programs were located, at the time, and we’re friends of Boston’s homeless office was because we work in partnership with them on a number of initiatives. And I just thought what they were doing to address the issue was, you know, at that time, different than then how it was kind of being dealt with Boston was really a pioneer in some ways. I don’t know if that’s the best term. And addressing the issue of homelessness in a way that goes beyond, you know, just sheltering people and meeting basic needs, but really giving them the tools that they need and the services and support they need to move beyond homelessness or be at shelter, as we call it. You know, at that time, it was that was really innovative. And it was exciting. And so, and you can’t get more local than Boston’s homeless. So which seemed like a good fit,

Fei Wu 7:18
you know, I still think it’s so it’s so so innovative today. And I’m so glad you’re here because I personally have been sharing stories based on what I’ve learned, in brief moments, annual events, how many staff it sounds like

Marianna Bucina Roca 7:30
a whole lot of staff. Yeah, I you know, I don’t know the exact number but it’s truly a couple of 100. The wood Smolin serves about 300 people every day, and what was Long Island and will now be 112, Southampton. It’s about 450. In the emergency shelters, and then across the different transitional programs, there were a number of transitional houses on Long Island. The, to the job training program, it’s about 800 people every day.

Fei Wu 8:05
Wow. So so it’s so interesting, because this is very conversational. This is already a lot more than I will learn on the website or at a you know, two hour event. I’m intrigued by the fact that this is really a network and not just not not just an office building like an individual entity, friends of Boston homeless, but you guys are very networked all around Massachusetts. It sounds like well,

Marianna Bucina Roca 8:29
you know what, though it it’s we’re it’s not us specific that friends, friends of Boston’s homeless actually is a two person staff. We work with we partner. Maybe the best way to explain this, we, if you think of us like a PTO like a Parent Teachers organization, it’s similar to how our friends have the public library. So we’re a unique public private, we work in a unique public private relationship with the city of Boston’s Homeless Services Bureau. And they run pretty much all of the programs that we support, except like I said, we have some housing programs for formerly homeless people in JP and Roxbury. But all those other programs, the emergency shelter, the vocational training, the workforce development, the adult education, the larger transitional housing programs are actually run by them. And what we do is our role is to get the private sector engaged in this work, you know, we really believe in it, obviously, we believe that it’s important, you know, like a Parent Teachers organization, right. They believe that the parents that believe that, that schools vital to the community and to their their lives, and so they go out and get other people in the community involved and fundraising and volunteering and all those numbers of ways to work together on a solution to in this case, the issue of homelessness. Straight, it takes people from all different backgrounds and expertise in different sectors to come together private public government to come together to solve a complex issue like homelessness. So, so we’re that private sector piece.

Fei Wu 10:15
This is super helpful. And you’ve been referring to as you know, we but I’m also very interested in your personal stories as well, that just so you know, as part of my podcast, one of the things that I love is that as a woman, I’m able to communicate with other women and bring female guests on my show. And just so you know, it’s really hard somehow in the podcasting world, it’s hard to find women who want to, you know, either represented themselves or their company were to speak up about something we feel truly passionate about, so hmm. Yeah, it’s fascinating. Whereas like, men, just the lineup, you know, more men, no, no more. I mean, you know, I really have to wait three to four people, I want to make sure there’s one, and it’s been a struggle for me, huh? What I love most about and correct me if I’m wrong, is you guys build a program, so that people not only our shelter, but they learn specific skills, then they can actually use and then be part of

Marianna Bucina Roca 11:13
the integration? Right? Well, this whole idea, you know, if if becoming homeless, I always say it’s really it’s the last thing and a whole bunch of things in somebody’s life that that did happen and shouldn’t have, or didn’t happen and should have, you know, I mean, like, you know, things that happen, like abuse and neglect. And things that didn’t happen, like access to a good education, access to a strong support system, whether that’s family or community support. Certainly a lot of that stems from poverty, but it’s a whole bunch of things. And then, you know, kind of one thing leads to another. In other words, if you ask a kid in school, when they’re in first grade, second grade, third grade, what do you want to be when you grow up, no one says, I want to be homeless and living on the streets, right? Everybody, every one has a hope and a dream for themselves in their future. But there’s a lot around each of us that needs to happen that often doesn’t in people’s lives, and eventually leads to homelessness. So it’s not simple. It’s not just as simple as giving someone a job, for example, you know, you really kind of need to meet someone where they are, and, and address a number of issues, and how it would really help them to address those issues and give them the tools they need, and the skills they need. And the access, really, in a lot of cases, it’s you know, just is not access to good health care, not access to a good education, help them plug into those things. So that then they can they can put, they can rebuild that in their lives or build it in some cases, because those opportunities were never there. So that’s what are the programs that friends supports, and our programs that we actually run, like our housing programs do for people is is is, you know, not just a shelter. And that’s very important. And meeting people’s basic human needs is crucial. But, but for people to to be to succeed, and to live lives, like, like you, or I do, and we, you know, walk around, and we’re independent, and we have community and support. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. And that’s what I really, I really admire about what, what these programs do and and they work.

Fei Wu 13:41
Could you give us some examples of some of the programs, what do they learn, were like kind of the journey of that transition.

Marianna Bucina Roca 13:48
So when I say this, we’re going to flip it all on its head after, after I explain this, because now lately in the last five years, there’s there’s sort of a different approach, that that does the same thing, but kind of turns the process around. But so so for so for example, somebody you know, goes to Woods mountain shelter, that’s the other shelter that friends of Boston’s homeless support, it’s in the south end. And actually, the relocated Long Island shelters in the south end as well will be completely open and hopefully, another month or so. So somebody goes there, and nobody’s denied shelter. So it doesn’t matter what’s going on. If you come to the door, and you asked to come in, you can come in it, you know, you if you’re doesn’t matter. I mean, if you’re inebriated, if, you know if people The belief is if someone shown up the door, they want help, and that’s what a shelter is there to do to at least take that first step. There. You talk to an intake worker. There’s case managers on site there’s with Boss Some Healthcare for the Homeless program, especially in the evenings, there’s nurses on site Boston Healthcare for the Homeless program is right next door. So there’s access to doctors. There’s, you know, substance abuse counselors, and like I said, case managers, so somebody can talk to a case manager or talk to an intake worker, or talk to a health care provider and say, you know, these, this is what I need, you know, this is, this is what’s going on in my life. And this is what I think I need help with. And together, then they can work to plug people into a number of programs, you know, and like I said, like, most people need more than one thing at the same time, right. So they have health issues, many that are really treatable, but are they’re not able to manage them. It’s the chaos of being homeless, you know, simple things. That’s simple, but you know, things that a lot of people just live with fine, like diabetes, for example, or high blood pressure, those kinds of more basic health care issues, they need mental health counseling. They may also need substance abuse counseling, you know, they maybe they need to go to a detox. First, maybe they don’t, they just need to start calling out a meetings or na a meetings, some need job skills, they need work experience, they need work readiness, they need to build a resume, some had jobs and lost them and need to kind of get back into that. And some people really never had gainful employment and needs to be able to compete in, you know, with with everyone else. And that requires skills and experience, and they need access to education. So there’s a knowledge there’s an adult education program that teaches helps people get ready, they need to take their GED, you know, or they have a high school diploma and well long out of school, you know, are ready to go back and need help filling out applications to go to, you know, one of the local colleges here community colleges. So again, I mean, I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s there’s a lot of things and there’s a lot of ways to plug in. And and that first step really is when somebody goes to to the emergency shelter. There’s people, their staff there that can help them plug into those services and those supports that they need to then kind of begin that process.

Fei Wu 17:22
Yeah, so I’m interested in your your almost like, childhood stories, like what is that true? I have a feeling that there’s a seed has been planted there for a long time for you to be intrigued and fascinated by what you do. And, you know, so do I come

Marianna Bucina Roca 17:40
up? Yeah, well, there have so my it really is a long, it’s really a lifetime of this about my father. And he he came his first generation, Southside of Chicago, 10 siblings, a mom and dad in a, he was a three bedroom. I think there’s only a three bedroom on the south side of Chicago. You know, growing up during the Depression, he was the second to the youngest. And they were a two of the siblings slept in the pantry in the apartment. So my father was the only one out of all his siblings who went to college, he joined the Navy, he went the GI Bill, he went to college and he became a became a doctor. So he really had he, you know, he came from different roots than what we grew up. My brother, I have a brother, my brother and I grew up in was very different lifestyle, right, because we were born, my father was a doctor, we you know, because we had all these opportunities. But you know, that was a part of who he was, then he didn’t want us to know, not realize how fortunate we weren’t, you know, in a lot of times, it’s just it is really just sort of the luck of the draw, right? You don’t you don’t have any control over where you’re who you’re what family you’re born into, right. And it’s easy expecially when there’s, you know, a lot of privilege around to not see what else is around you. So my father always was have always volunteered, he took us at that time, they were called soup kitchens. When We Were Young to help serve meals, we, you know, did things like buy gifts for children whose families couldn’t buy holiday gifts for them, for example. So he really instilled that in us and wanted us to realize that, you know, in some ways we were just lucky. And, and and that that because of that and because of all the opportunities that were afforded to us, we also had an opportunity to help There’s in the world, and really an obligation to, to, to do more to do more than just think beyond ourselves that, you know, it’s easy to be selfish when you’re, you know, insulated and, and, you know, kind of I didn’t want for anything growing up, right? I didn’t, there was nothing that was I never wanted for food, I never wanted for anything, I had a good education, I had a family that was intact and supportive, you know, so I didn’t lack any emotional support I needed nor did I lack any, like, the basic things. And in fact, you know, if I wanted a new coat, I got a new coat, like I wasn’t an issue, I think, you know, it kind of makes sense that this is where I am. And this is what I did, really, for a career even though it wasn’t what I studied in college, I Scott, it studied microbiology and environmental toxicology. And wow, and thought I do I do research. And I did for a while, and that I realized I would have to get a PhD to really do the kind of research I wanted to do. And, you know, I was 23 years old, and like, hold on to that, at the time, and was doing some volunteer work with the Nature Conservancy, and really liked their program in Latin America, that they were just starting at the time, late 80s. And how they addressed trying to do conservation. But how you have to, especially in the developing world, combine that with with sustainable development, you know, you can’t just go to farmers and say, Hey, there’s a really rare Fenix fox that lives at Fox that lives here and don’t cut the trees down firms like kidding me. And you have to, you know, and I thought that was really interesting, but it because it takes there’s a real human piece to that. And so that sort of started me off in that direction. And, you know, over the years to sled me to this,

Fei Wu 22:10
what will you guys do, what you do in particular is, is amazing. And I just, I want to be able to spread the word and however shape or form that I can. And at this point, I build an audience on my podcast, and I know that every time I release something, there’s, there’s a group of people are going to be listening to this. And I wonder, I feel like there’s always a to me, like, there’s a little bit of misconception. And then when you work a corporation, there’s like a day of volunteering, where you could do that. What are some of the starter kit like that people could if they want to get involved with friends with Boston homeless? How would they go about starting it? And what are some of the different levels of Sure?

Marianna Bucina Roca 22:53
Well, I mean, there’s so So art, like I said, you know, our offices is a tiny office. It’s two people, and we have an administrative assistant for eight hours a week. And we also have a couple of ongoing volunteers that, you know, come in, when one of our volunteers was to came in today, who helped us with a number of things. So that’s certainly one way to start. I mean, that’s not hands on and kind of directly working with, with, with homeless individuals, but it’s rewarding, you know, they help with things we have someone who’s helping us with social media. I mean, it’s, it’s fun to talk about this and, and come up with ways that engage other people, we have volunteers that help us really basic stuff, like data entry. But you know, that’s important. And there’s people that love that. I mean, you know, that help people that help us with some grant writing that kind of thing. So help us around our events, you mentioned beyond shelter, which was just two weeks ago. That’s a big event with 700 people attending. We have volunteers that do everything from serve on committees on the event committee to help get prizes and help get corporate sponsors and think about planning and sort of talk about big picture stuff. Today, all volunteers that helped set up and help run it the night of we also do a golf tournaments. So those are kind of those are fun too, and ways to you know, those are kind of nice one off opportunities. And then the, the programs that we support, have a number of opportunities for people and for groups to engage. So, you know, starting with doing something like serving a meal at the emergency shelters, it’s meaningful, you know, it’s really it’s you talk with with the individuals, the shelters love the help. The companionship means a lot to homeless individuals who, you know, often people don’t even look at them on the street. So that’s a nice opportunity. Sometimes groups will combine and one person can come and serve have to but it’s kind of a more, it’s better with a group. There’s a workforce development and this project lighthouse, which is the education and employment resources program. So we have individuals come in and do things like mock interviews, you know, and that’s great for professionals. Because, you know, we all know how hard that is. And we all know, if we haven’t looked for a job in a while, and then you got to look for a job, you’re like, Oh, I haven’t done this in a while, you know, I haven’t put a resume together in a while. I haven’t written a cover letter in a while. What is what do people even do? Like, for me personally? Like? Do people really still write cover letters? You haven’t hired somebody in in a few years? And, you know, how does that work? So that’s, that’s where, you know, expertise. Everybody needs that, like I said, so we have people that are graduating the workforce, develop the vocational training, they need all that help. There’s one on one, there’s people that will come in and teach, you know, a small group to talk about that to taught, you know, HR people can come in and talk about, you know, what’s, what’s a work environment, like, if you’re gonna go work, like someone in the restaurant industry, for example, can come in with there was a, there’s a culinary arts program, that people are going to work in restaurants. So what’s that really? Like? You know, what’s that going to be? Like? What can I expect? What are my hours going to be? Like, you know, how, how do I, what do I want to talk about in the in, in my cover letter? And in my interview, and how many interview with the chef, you know, how is that going to look? We have, we have groups that teach all other kinds of workshops, basic, like first aid, for example, a group from BU, they’re EMT program comes in every couple of months and teaches things like that personal health care and kind of, you know, basic first aid stuff as people are moving into their own homes, and they given first aid kits. And I, you know, it’s really endless. I mean, we have, we have some people, a group that’s going to come in, it’s going to go to start shortly at one of the programs that just been recited from Long Island, and do yoga with a men’s group, wow, for six weeks of teach yoga and meditation, you know, that. So really, it’s really only limited, we have a woman that’s, that last year taught a group of women knitting and crocheting, and she brought all you know, yarn, and she just really basic stuff. So I, you know, it’s kind of only limited by people’s imagination, I mean, just, you know, homeless individuals are just like the rest of us, we, we all crave knowledge, right? We all want to better ourselves in a number of ways spiritually, intellectually, professionally. You know, in our relationships, we just have easier access to to be able to gain those those skills. So you know, whether it’s through the programs, or through volunteers, anything someone can think of pretty much and said, You know, I have the skill, I want to come teach it to people, there’s, there’s people that are interested in learning that not only

Fei Wu 28:21
I think not only access, I feel like, we feel so righteous to we feel like we have the right to access things are in front of us, you know, right. And even for us, honestly, sometimes you work for a big corporation, you’re like, I’m an associate, and this is a vice president, I feel like I don’t have the rights to speak up, or my ideas are less important is intriguing, right, I think for homeless individuals, and that barrier is so significant,

Marianna Bucina Roca 28:48
right? Oh, definitely. And, and I think a nice thing, amongst other things that are very positive, around volunteering, is that piece of it is just, you know, that’s why I say even serving a meal just by being there and interacting and talking with people is helpful, because homeless people are so marginalized. And so, you know, you work down here in Downtown Crossing, so I’m sure you see many, many homeless people every day, you know, hundreds of people walk by, and don’t don’t even acknowledge them and don’t even don’t even look them in the eye. So, you know, any, anytime those interactions happen, just like the rest of us, not being ignored, right helps kind of your psyche. I don’t know what I’m trying to say so right it, there’s this. There’s this very tangible piece of of volunteering and kind of measurable Oh, I taught 10 people how to knit or I taught you know, I tutored five people, and they all got jobs. But there’s this other piece that that you just explained. But I think a lot of us don’t even think of that is all built up around us that it and has been most of our lives. But but still creeps its little head out every once in a while and your head. So, you know, you just magnify that. And,

Fei Wu 30:25
you know, in 2003 This reminded me of Downtown Crossing here and where I had a friend who was going to school at Emerson and studied filmmaking. And one day, I was still in college at the time, I said, Hey, Matt, you want to just come out, and we’re just gonna shoot the film all around Boston. And that was a day before the marathon, I still remember. And we saw this homeless man who was wearing, he was calling himself like a cat or something who’s wearing us hanging out at Downtown Crossing. And he’s like, I have a job here. I said, Oh, well, what is what is your job, I just decided to talk to him out of the blue, if he said, I’m a weather reporter. And I don’t know whether you ever listened to this, but he said, I report. I report weather every day, like people who would walk by and that will be his job. Ha, yeah. So I just like it just so interesting. Like, you know, all of a sudden, you have access to people, and then you just, you just talk to them, you know, right. I’ve also saw a gentleman near government center a couple of years ago, and it broke my heart. And he said he came back from the war. And then, you know, he was he was basically empathize, like, below his knees. And then he really was struggling and and then I remember giving him money. And I said to myself, what is what is $5? Gonna do? Like, what is this? Maybe this conversation is worth a little bit more than just money alone?

Marianna Bucina Roca 31:47
And yeah, I believe I personally, really believe that. Yeah, I just think that, that that is really valuable. I mean, obviously, resources and, and like money are important that everybody but you know, if you’re kind of nobody’s an island, and you know, you all that other stuff around you, and you get caught if you can, if you just get stuck in your own head? Where do you go from there? Right. So, um, yeah, I think that’s, that’s crucial. It’s just talking to someone looking them in the eye, whether you did on the street, you do that, you know, in the common, saying hello to somebody, or really taking that one step further and coming to volunteer, you know, at one of these programs, or, or at the shelter, it’s, it’s a, it’s a valuable piece of law, it’s an important piece of all of that of, of helping somebody put their lives back together, or put them together, you know, maybe the, you know, some people like I said, it’s decades of, of neglect, and you know, but nobody’s hopeless. So, so those are good first steps. And I think everybody wins, because it’s very rewarding, you know, from the, from the community, the volunteers perspective, it’s rewarding from the, the people that you’re helping and ultimately, you know, our whole community benefits when everybody does better.

Fei Wu 33:18
I want to dive in a little bit deeper. So I was thinking that sometimes for me, or for my friends, as you walk down, say, downtown Boston, you know, in the morning, 839 o’clock, and I feel like you they’re almost to categorize them, but they’re like two types of homeless people. One is looking very lonely, barely speaking up with a sign versus some, some people may be walking in, and appear to be under, you know, sort of drug influence, that sometimes, you know, people like us walking to work, and there’s, I have to admit that some part of me feels nervous in approaching or making icons. Yeah, of course. So how do we, I guess, how do we make that judgment call and how do we overcome that fear?

Marianna Bucina Roca 34:05
I don’t, you know, that’s a tough, you know, I don’t I mean, I don’t know I don’t really know how to answer that. I you know, I think it just some of it’s just instinct and I also think being a woman is it’s a different perspective when you’re walking by yourself early in the morning somewhere and you know, it I you know, I don’t often I’ve actually, I’ve, I’ve a pipl so I feel a little bit a little bit different, but she’s older now. And you know, just walking by myself in the park and JP and some man is just walking by, you know, you’re just more alert and okay, I don’t know what this is like could be in a suit. And so, you know, that’s kind of tough to answer because I I’m cautious. Just be just by the fact that I’m a woman. I’m more cautious, especially with men. Kind of no matter what they’re doing, if it’s just me and that person on the street. So you just have you just have to use not be judgmental, but use your judgment. Right and what you feel comfortable saying or not saying to somebody?

Fei Wu 35:20
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s definitely a very it’s a tough and tricky question. And, you know, they’re, they’re the same number of I think there’s some homeless men and women that we see regularly here in downtown. Yeah, I do see people I mean, they’re, you know, there’s financial district, there’s downtown, there are a lot of agencies around and I see people stopping by and having a chat with them. I see people buying them coffee sandwiches for lunch, and then it warms my heart that people do stop by and yeah, and making sure that they’re okay, and then they’re cared for. So I guess it’s a segue into one of my question is, as a young girl, and when you first your first memory of approaching someone who’s homeless, versus when you see them now, like, what is the same and what’s different?

Marianna Bucina Roca 36:11
Well, my very first memory is being in New York City when I don’t know how old I was maybe six or something. And I wasn’t keeping up with my, with my parents, and my dad was yelling at me for not keeping up because I don’t, I was looking at stuff. And a guy came up to me and asked me for some change. And you know, that kind of stereotypical what we what we think of, you know, oh, no, some crazy guy and, and a lot of facial hair and old and overcoat. So that was my first, my first experience, and that was scared me. But then I think the more impactful experience was also in New York City at Grand Central Station. And a woman came up was really crowded, and a woman came up to me and asked me for, for change. And I had seen her 10 minutes or so before, and she was clearly I think, on high on heroin, kind of nodding, and, and she came up and she asked me for some money. And I knew, you know, I and she said, I have kids, you know, and part of me knew that. There was, well, of course, I knew something else was going on. But I was like, what, who am I like, who am I to judge I gave her money. Like, I was just like, whatever, she clearly needs it. And I just gave her what it was, I don’t know what I had 10 bucks or something five bucks that I had. And that kind of I don’t know. I don’t know why even really why that was

Fei Wu 37:58
so memorable. Yeah,

Marianna Bucina Roca 38:00
it was, it was the first time where I just was like, You know what? Well, I have no business judging this person. situation. I in fact, don’t even know what’s going on there. Like I’d make I made assumptions. I was probably right, but maybe not. But she asked for something. And I had it like, so. She she needed it for whatever she maybe she did or she didn’t have kids, but I didn’t know and how am I you know, say Ah, she’s, she’s why and so no to you. I don’t it’s just really struck me but you know what, it’s what struck me more than than that more beyond that moment was and because I had done so much work in Latin America. I was like, Man, this is a such a wealthy country. And when did it become Okay, and how did it become okay? That there’s people that just like, live on the sidewalk, and you know, live in Grand Central Station, or, you know, most of the time was in grant sleep somewhere in some alley. Like, when did that become okay for us? Like, we were when did that happen? And that now, or even at that point that we just saw kind of walk around be like, oh, yeah, there’s homeless people. And that’s just part of like, they’re always

Fei Wu 39:19
going to be your asset. You know, there’s nothing, there’s nothing to do with me. Yeah, like

Marianna Bucina Roca 39:23
that. That was really what, and probably why I happened to the next job after that child was this one. And I think, well, what editing? Yes. That’s probably why I felt like, well, you know, there’s got to be ways to solve this. It just is impossible that it can’t be solved with with the resources this country has and we all have and the knowledge and the access we have. So I don’t know and I don’t even know where I’m going with that, but it was good. I don’t

Fei Wu 40:00
know if this is the most interesting stuff. It’s like people sometimes find. It’s like, my mom told me yesterday that she was trying to walk around Boston College and completely got lost there and walk into their cafeteria. And I told her, it’s it’s important for people to get lost once in a while, like get lost in your own thoughts. I think that’s, that’s really interesting what you just said, you know,

Marianna Bucina Roca 40:19
they’ve a good, I hope I said something where it went there, but it is I’ve never really kind of thought of all those things together before but I’m certain that there there is a connection that led me to where I am now that put me that the way I responded the way I did then and sort of led to where I am now. And it is making me think about and especially what we’re doing now around this whole housing first initiative. Yeah. It doesn’t change. The fact that or the question I still have is, why is this? Okay, yeah.

Fei Wu 40:58
So you raise a really interesting question. I always wondered how could anybody homeless get through the Boston winter? You know, that was that has always been my because,

Marianna Bucina Roca 41:09
yeah, people do. I mean, they do. You know, there were people on the coldest nights. And the this was a brutal winter. Yeah, that did not come in. And there’s a lot of reasons people don’t come in, they don’t like this, they don’t like they don’t feel safe in the shelter. A lot of a lot of times with, especially women, they feel more vulnerable in the shelter than they do outside. There, they are actively using drugs or alcohol. And they you can’t be you know, in the shelter, but you can, you know, if you’re outside in the park, or wherever. I mean, there’s all kinds of reserved a lot of times again, it’s just some, some, some pretty complex mental health issues and fear and real and imagined. People don’t come in. So they won’t, I mean, they, and a lot of people, what they’ll do is they’ll use the emergency room, not only for any other health care needs, but for respite, if the weather gets too cold, they’d rather go there, then go to an emergency shelter for all those, you know, those reasons and probably more that I’ve, there’s rules that people don’t want to follow.

Fei Wu 42:20
You know, like, I was just thinking that if there’s an opportunity ever for me to speak with a client, and maybe conduct a podcast with a client, oh, yeah, I see. There are a lot of videos that you produce, I watched two of them. One actually, one was actually in person, a gentleman in his maybe mid 40s, at one of the annual event four or five years ago, and his most recent one last month was a video and you just can’t help tear enough that you just find yourself unexpectedly emotional. And, and a gentleman who was in a sitting in a house saying my kids can now visit our

Marianna Bucina Roca 42:58
Lee, we just made that video. Yes, I was going to talk about that. So he’s a Housing First, he is a housing first recipient. So let me let me just because I don’t I don’t know how we are on time. But I really want to talk about this because I think it’s awesome. And it changes everything specially for that population, that tough, chronic, long term homeless population. It turns the whole idea of transitioning and a continuum of care model on its head, and says, No, what if you just house somebody first. And it’s amazing to me that it took all of us so long to get to that idea. But somebody did somewhere and probably like a decade or so ago and started implementing it and other cities, Boston has been doing it for about six years. Now. Some other cities like New York have been doing it longer. What if you just have somebody first and then get them the supports they need? While housed. And the idea being is that homelessness is chaotic, right? If you don’t know, you think in front of what you see as your hand in front of your nose, where am I going to sleep tonight? How am I gonna be warm? Where am I going to eat? You know, to the idea of anything beyond that it’s impossible to think about if you’ve got healthcare and mental health care issues, how where do you put your medication? You know, how do you remember it, take it even if you have somewhere to put it, it just it just a chaotic life. So so once you house somebody, all that cast disappears from their lives because they’ve got a house, and they’ve got a place where there are of course, some rules. But the it’s not like you have to do this, this, this, this and 20 other things in order to have this place to live. It’s like, just come here. Here’s a place to live. We’re going to put in this place to live and we’re going to cut out these intensive supportive services a case manner Okay, we’ll see you a crisis intervention worker, we’ll see you. We’ll talk about the health issues, we’ll talk about the mental health issues, we’ll get you benefits that you didn’t even maybe know you were eligible for veterans benefits, and excuse me, SSI and all these other benefits. We’ll get you a health care provider and a mental health care provider. And what do you know, people like,

Fei Wu 45:21
you fix the routes and not just the symptoms? You almost you give them? The routes?

Marianna Bucina Roca 45:25
Right. Yeah. And you know, could because nobody it and here’s the thing, what it. So these people in Boston alone, I mean, there’s cities that have been doing this longer. I just read an article in Houston, actually, a group mucin just spoke in Boston in three years through Housing First, they reduce their street homelessness population by 53%. Like, that’s so fascinating, much bigger, almost a chronic homeless population than Boston does. Boston in six years has helped over 600 People Housing First place over 600 people in housing 608 To be exact, and 90% of those people remain house and I have not returned to homelessness, proving that no one thinks homelessness is a good game. Right? Right. I mean, it’s, it’s, that’s the What more proof do you need, you house somebody, then you figure out what they need. And then you plug them into the resources and the ability to and and somewhat on their terms, or a compromise between their terms and the requirements of the program. Instead of you have to do this, this this, this is okay. Now you and housing is a reward. Yeah. No longer the case. Yeah. And it is a beautiful thing. And in the meantime, for for skep for skeptics, or people that will it also because these programs have been going on long enough. There’s good data around them now. In Boston, we work the housing first programs Mahaska, Massachusetts housing and shelter Alliance, collects that data and reports and the reports are available online. But the June, their last study was June 2000, or less when I read was June 2014. But I think they do them every six months, showed that when someone is housed versus living on the streets and in shelters, it saves our community about $9,300 per person per year in health care and public safety costs alone. So it’s dignified, it’s effective, and it saves our community money, like come on.

Fei Wu 47:41
It’s some of this is like so it’s not it’s intuitive. It’s right, counterintuitive, you know, and then the same thing, you know, we talk about hiring, it’s almost the same way in a much lesser scale, that retention is making money for the company. Yes.

Marianna Bucina Roca 47:56
Right? Exactly. By investing in, in your right and your employees, I say that all the time. Like I don’t want I have one other employee. And if she leaves, the time and the and the money to train somebody with the knowledge that she’s had, she’s been there for 10 years to over 10 years to that’s much more costly. So why wouldn’t I do you know, work with her so that she’s happy, it feels that her job is rewarded and rewarding and and she’s able to sustain her life and her family’s life? Then say all you know, you’re asking too much and right? Yeah,

Fei Wu 48:40
in this, it makes perfect sense to me when you say Let’s have someone first, again, to people who are not homeless. It’s not so much as if you know, some of a woman’s name, Amy needs a, b and c that she’s gonna be all set. It’s like a lot of the struggles we have is fundamentally you know, some spiritual, some mental like we really change our mindset first. Wow.

Marianna Bucina Roca 49:04
And how do you do that amidst the chaos of like, living on the street and shelter and street and shelter and going back and forth and then sometimes you get arrested for some so sometimes you’re in jail for a little while, you know, and you’re, you’re the victim of of, you know, just petty violence being outside being vulnerable. You can’t your mind is not calm Yeah. And it really is never at rest you’re you’re you know you’re constantly in this mode of

Fei Wu 49:32
of you can react when you really seize the right right so I’m a martial artist and I use colloidal you know, like when we when you punch I’m trying to teach kids you can’t just be nervous the whole time it is the end. You know, when you strike something, the various when you gather all your power. If you’re tense all the time, just like a homeless person. You’re thinking about what you have to do on a daily basis, right whereas revocation were all the resources But you cannot react, you know? And right. Yeah,

Marianna Bucina Roca 50:04
yeah, it is. It is a good analogy. It’s so true. And it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing to me, and I have to include myself in this because I’ve been working in this area for a long time that none of us ever thought of it for so long.

Fei Wu 50:18
And it’s never always, you know, late than never,

Marianna Bucina Roca 50:22
of course what I mean, like, thank goodness, it’s happening. But yeah, but really, like, how did that take it? You know, and maybe it is, maybe it’s a societal thing that, you know, it’s, we’re all about, pick yourself up by your bootstraps. Yeah, you know, but that’s just the way that that, you know, we’re raised and that this country is, you know, it’s just instilled in us as as as, as Americans may be that, you know, come on and do these things, and you do all the right things, and you’re gonna be

Fei Wu 50:52
okay, yeah, you’re gonna be successful, everybody should be type A.

Marianna Bucina Roca 50:55
Right, right. And if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you. Not that there’s something wrong with the system around you that that, that digger didn’t support you in ways that you needed to be supported, especially when you’re, you know, young, but even that, no, it’s you something wrong with you, and you’re not conforming. So that to your problem. And, and again, like housing first kind of just looks at that differently. And, and again, I don’t need to say more except 90%. People don’t return to homelessness. And, and if you don’t like that, you have to like the fact that it saves a lot of money. I mean, if you multiply 600, okay, 90%. So, so, so 550 people, times $9,300 per person per year, you’re talking about a significant economic benefit to that as well, who would want to do that.

Fei Wu 51:48
And then I remember the event that you mentioned that Boston is friends of Boston homeless, it has like this record high a model, you create a business model, basically, and that is so meaningful that other states, other cities can copy from, and I’m thinking beyond just United States, homeless is, you know, epidemic basically, everywhere in the world, South America, China, India, there’s got to be some some of the part of the system that can be replicated.

Marianna Bucina Roca 52:17
Well, you know, I would, I would think so I think the one, you know, the one piece of all this and this idea of Housing First, for it to work, and I thought I thought about it specifically coming into Downtown Crossing today. Is there has to be housing stock. Because you have to have, you have to have the places for people to move into, in order to house them first. Right. And I think that’s it. It’s challenging in a wealthy city like Boston and in the city that just expanding in Downtown Crossing what it looks like now what it looked like, 27 years ago, 20 years? Yeah, you can’t, you wouldn’t even know it was the same place. And I think we’ll look at all this, these these luxury, fancy restaurants and luxury condos and apartments, where, where is that piece like if you don’t create that for people who can’t afford them on on their own, and if you don’t make that room for, for everybody else, you have a problem? Right? And, and housing first can’t succeed, ultimately, if there’s not access to availability of affordable housing. So if that’s challenging, for different reasons, in the United States, than it is maybe in other countries, although probably it’s a part of everything, you know, you have to that for that model to really work long term and on a large scale. You know, you need to, we need to also be at the same time advocating for permanent affordable housing. And, you know, these programs work with landlords and private landlords, they their section eight based housing to pull people into so that they, you know, they can start that process. So I think it can happen in other places, but that that needs to be a part of from us.

Fei Wu 54:14
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. This is so cool. And I want my listeners to kind of just sit on a lot of these ideas, actions you’ve taken, and really think about it. You know, I think awareness is still key for a lot of the people. To respect your time I have it we’re four minutes to two. I know you really have to run out two o’clock sharp. But I really want to take the time. Thank you so much for coming on to my show. And I know you’re exposing a lot personally professionally, but in the long run. I think this is so meaningful and valuable.

Marianna Bucina Roca 54:49
Thank you. Thanks for having me. It was I was so much more nervous than I needed to be.

Fei Wu 54:55
Audio Only Have you listened to more episodes of the face world podcast? Please subscribe on iTunes where visit face that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links, other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening

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  1. […] Mariann Bucina Roca from Friends of Boston’s Homeless  […]

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