When I arrived at Haley House for my first ever soup kitchen shift, the neighborhood immediately surprised me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t the expensive condos, overpriced coffee shops, and suit-clad business people I saw walking down Dartmouth Street. 


Granted, I was unfamiliar with the geography of the city. Despite having gone to school in the Boston area for the past three years, I rarely made it past the suburbs. I didn’t know the difference between “southie” and the South End, or which parts of the city were “nicer” than others. Still, when you think “soup kitchen” you don’t generally think of the most expensive neighborhood in town.


I was curious: Why was there a soup kitchen in such a pricey area?  


Looking at Haley House down Montgomery Street in its early days (undated)


This summer I am working as an intern at Haley House through the Tufts University Tisch Summer Fellows program. As a summer fellow, I work mostly in the office helping with development, communications, and administrative needs. Twice a week I also perform direct service shifts, either in the soup kitchen, the food pantry, or at Take Back the Kitchen classes at Haley House’s Roxbury location in Nubian Square. Outside of this work, I have spent a good deal of time researching the history of the South End and how the neighborhood has changed since Haley House’s early days. It didn’t take long for me to find that the culprit is a common problem in urban areas: gentrification. 


Gentrification is defined as “a process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents” (Merriam Webster). It is inherently tied to race, culture, and citizenship. For example, in the South End, the median household income in 2019 was $86,995, compared to the entire city of Boston, whose household median income was $76,298 in 2019. This is a stark contrast to the early days of Haley House, where the South End was known as “skid row.”


Whilst learning the history of the South End, many of my most interesting insights came from a walking tour led by Haley House board member and former Live-In Community member Dave Manzo. Dave teaches a course at Boston College called Boston: An Urban Analysis. Students in the class are taught about the history of Boston’s neighborhoods through discussion groups, walking tours, and direct service shifts at BC’s partner organizations. 


On a hot July morning after one of our soup kitchen shifts, Dave kindly met me and my fellow intern Danielle at 23 Dartmouth St to give us a “walking tour” of the South End. He first gave us a brief history of Boston, including how much of the land in Boston is human-made. We then spent about two hours walking the neighborhood and discussing the parks, art, and architecture of the South End. Every time there was a pause, he would ask us: “what surprised you?” 


There was no shortage of answers to this question. The tour was like a scavenger hunt of the neighborhood’s hidden gems. Two minutes into our walk, we found a metal chain on the sidewalk that had once been used to tie up horses. We walked through Harriet Tubman Square, a small park which holds the “first statue on city-owned property to honor a woman.” Dave took us by a building which over the span of a century had served as a Protestant church, a cathedral, and a synagogue based on the changing needs of the neighborhood. We also discussed the rich history of the South End as a hub for the LGBTQ community. However, as we walked past blocks and blocks of brownstones, I was most surprised to learn that 48% of the neighborhood’s housing is classified as affordable.



Harriet Tubman Park in Boston’s South End (Photo: NPS)


Part of this is Haley House’s doing. In addition to owning the property at 23 Dartmouth St, Haley House owns 110 affordable housing units in the South End. This service is incredibly important not only to provide community members with necessary housing, but also maintaining a sense of place in a neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying. 



Looking forward


One thing I was curious about was the effect of gentrification on Haley House’s community. However, in my conversations with guests and workers, the changing neighborhood does not seem to have driven guests away. Despite recent trends of increasing rent and property value, Haley House remains at 23 Dartmouth St. serving people in need. In the words of Dave Manzo, the decision by Kathe and John McKenna to purchase 23 Dartmouth St. in the 70s was the “single best decision Haley House has ever made.” Because Haley House owns the property, we cannot be forced to move because of NIMBY-ism or demands from landlords. Additionally, because Haley House is so established and in such a central location, the impact of the organization remains strong. In short, despite its rapidly changing neighborhood, Haley House isn’t going anywhere.



Hazel Ostrowski is a rising senior at Tufts University. She is a 2022 Tisch Summer Fellow passionate about urban environmentalism and social justice.



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Sample language to share with your attorney:

“I bequeath to Haley House, 23 Dartmouth Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116, [the sum of __________ Dollars ($____)] [ _______ % of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate], to be used for its general charitable purposes.”

Sample language to share with your attorney:

“I bequeath to Haley House, 23 Dartmouth Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116, [the sum of __________ Dollars ($____)] [ _______ % of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate], to be used for its general charitable purposes.”