A house of hospitality
In 1966, Kathe and John McKenna rented a basement apartment in Boston’s South End and began taking in the men they found sleeping on the street. They offered a cot and a simple meal—no strings attached—which was first met with skepticism and disbelief among the destitute and freezing men who called Tremont Street their home. At once simple and radical, this act of personal hospitality set the tone for Haley House ever since.
Soon Haley House expanded into a full-service Soup Kitchen, run by a growing community of like-minded people, who offered their time and presence in exchange for room and board. Like those who followed, the original community was moved to action by the social, racial, and economic injustice they witnessed, and they found inspiration from radical activists of the day such as Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and Mahatma Gandhi. This model of people living together, feeding and befriending those living on the fringes of society as an integrated community, persists. The Live-In Community, a group of volunteers who have committed to living and working at Haley House for an extended period of time, continues to manage the majority of our direct services while living upstairs from the Soup Kitchen, as folks have since 1966. In 2016, we celebrated our 50th Anniversary.
Same tree, more branches
A half century later, Haley House remains dedicated to breaking down barriers that separate people in our increasingly polarized society. Always local in its focus, Haley House has developed organically in response to those most vulnerable to the harshest effects of social inequality. Some highlights:
In 1974, members of the community recognized that as the neighborhood began rapidly changing, older residents were struggling in new ways with social isolation and rising food costs. Thus was born our Elder Meal, an afternoon gathering of old friends and new, especially intended to welcome and supplement the diets of residents of rooming houses and nearby subsidized housing. There were others in the neighborhood, families with children, also struggling to get by on limited incomes, so the weekly Food Pantry opened in 1998.
Affordable Housing: After the first few years of providing hospitality in the Soup Kitchen, the dire need for affordable housing in Boston became undeniable and urgent. In 1972, Haley House responded by becoming the first homeless service provider to create permanent, affordable housing. Today, our housing program encompasses over 100 units of housing scattered throughout the South End, helping to stabilize and empower individuals through affordable, secure, and well-managed long-term housing.
Organic Farming: In 1982, Haley House began farming organically at Noonday Farm in the country-side. After thirty years of deep appreciation for all that Noonday Farm had been and continues to be, Haley House recently sold this bio-dynamic and completely sustainable gem to a land trust to protect its future.
Inspired by Noonday’s example, Haley House has refocused resources on urban agriculture to source fresh food and offer more locally accessible ground for experiential learning about seed to table nutrition. Haley House’s urban agriculture initiative began with the pilot program with our South End neighborhood partner. The McKinley Garden is a school-based community garden that encourages healthy lifestyles and community primarily with students at McKinley South End Academy. More recently we have partnered with Roxbury neighbors to cultivate land at 95 Thornton.
Social Enterprise & Employment: By the 1990’s the community witnessed an intensification of the tragic cycle of many of our soup kitchen guests of addiction-to-prison-and-back. In 1996, men from the Soup Kitchen began the Bakery Training Program, learning how to bake bread and selling it to our South End neighbors, gaining invaluable practical skills and employment experience while bolstering the neighborhood community. Support was strong, and the Bakery Training Program quickly outgrew its home at the Soup Kitchen. In 2005, Haley House took the bold step of opening Haley House Bakery Cafe in nearby Nubian Square (Roxbury).
Haley House Bakery Café continued to blossom into a celebrated community hub, and we purchased our building in 2015. In addition to offering healthful, delicious food, our social enterprise business offers economic opportunities for people with barriers to traditional employment (especially those transitioning out of incarceration) and culinary education for youth (Take Back the Kitchen). Our Café serves as a bridge between Boston’s neighborhoods, helping to overcome barriers of race, education, and economic disparity through the medium of nutritious food and robust community. It underwent a re-envisioning process in 2019 and relaunched with an updated business model in 2020, integrating the principles of “Open Book Management” for the cafe staff.
Sinking deeper roots
Despite our growth, we seek to remain true to our roots as a simple house of hospitality—never giving up on those who find themselves struggling to survive, offering a cup of coffee, a hot meal, and a listening ear to anyone who finds their way to our doors.