Dorchester’s Brookview House provides families with services to overcome homelessness
On a quiet street in Dorchester bordered by Harvard Street and Blue Hill Avenue lies the Brookview House, an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to help homeless and at-risk families learn the skills necessary to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
In 1990, the Brookview House opened its doors to sixteen moms and children to offer them housing coupled with supportive services. Today, Brookview provides services to more than 350 families per year, with a success rate of 92 percent leaving the ranks of homelessness.
Brookview’s Executive Director Deborah Hughes, who has been involved with the organization for the past 24 years, says part of the organization’s success lies in its ability to evolve to meet the needs of its clients.
“We’re always looking for and listening to what our constituents need, as well as where the gaps are,” she said. “We don’t want to duplicate services. We try to fill in the gaps.”
The methodology to Brookview House’s success is about building a community. The organization embraces a two-generation approach, with the children being the largest component.
“The thing about Brookview House is that we take people where they are and start from there,” Hughes said. “Our focus is for the kids’ academic improvement and behavioral health improvement because the two go hand in hand. And we call our youth work our prevention work because we see that as preventing future homelessness.”
With sites in Roxbury and Dorchester, Brookview provides women and children with a safe environment and a full set of services to get their lives back on track. On average, families live at Brookview House 18 months in 12 two- to three-bedroom units within the site, and have access to a slate of services and programs.
The families are referred by the state and the process of living at Brookview begins with an assessment identifying their full medical, social, and housing history andneeds. Once they go through this process, staff sit with the family again “to figure out what are the three primary things that they want to work on while they’re here,” says Hughes.
The next phase is to set up a service plan around their three primary needs and to give them the tools and steps to develop for achieving those goals. There is also a full assessment completed with the kids separate from the mothers to ensure that all their social, emotional, and academic needs are also being met. This is all done by a small team that includes a licensed clinician, five graduate level clinical interns, two case managers, and an adult services supervisor who supervises all the programs, and does the actual housing workshops.
Brookview House also offers several workshops to address the needs of the adults and children, both together and separately. For the women, the programs include the Dorchester Women’s Safety Network, a multi-cultural community partnership to prevent and end domestic violence; the workshop “Tapping the Powers Within,” which is about finding that thing within yourself that motivates you; and a housing workshop that reviews rules and regulations along with landlord-tenant rights.
For the girls, Brookview hosts a workshop every Saturday which focuses on self-esteem issues. When asked about a similar program for boys, Hughes admitted that it’s been tough finding a comparable program for boys. They’ve had a few programs in place that have started-and-stopped but they’re working on developing a more consistent program. This past summer, the organization did have a number of male mentors from Milton Academy and Berklee College of Music that did a lot of physical activities with the boys.
They also offer a parenting workshop called “family fun night” which looks like fun but it’s also about learning how to bond with their children. Hughes says every component of their workshops is intentional.
“What we do is about forming the bonds, working on the behavioral stuff, build community, and relaxing,” she said.
After 24 years, it can be challenging to stay motivated, but what keeps Hughes going is that for her, Brookview House is “not about creating expansions, it’s about creating models that work. And models that can be duplicated.”
“We want people to take the model and duplicate it around the country,” she adds. “Looking at our data, we know what we do is successful.”
Mercedes Tompkins, Brookview’s director of development, says that what keeps her motivated is seeing the families’ progress over time.
“You get a sense of what the impact is on the work that we do, and, of course, seeing the success stories of the families that come through with the children,” she says. “There are kids who come in who don’t talk, and then when they leave they’re engaging and full of life.”
Brookview House does receive government funding, but as with all nonprofits, fundraising is crucial to providing services. The Brookview House will host its primary fundraiser, the 6th Annual “End of Summer Sizzler,” on Friday, Sept. 26 at Exchange Hall on Boston’s Historic Waterfront from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
The evening will include a four-course tasting featuring wines paired with tasty treats from East Meets West, along with an auction and music by pianist Carolyn Wilkinson. Special guests include Rebecca Miller Sykes, who was recently appointed president of the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, which makes grants to support education and the empowerment of women and girls, and Cindy Stumpo, celebrity home builder and reality star of HGTV’s Tough as Nails, who is this year’s recipient of their “Inspirational Woman of the Year” award.
For more information on Brookview House or to purchase tickets to their fundraiser, visit BrookviewHouse.org or call 617.265.2965, ext. 207.