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‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel’

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Boston resident John Holley doesn’t have a family to celebrate Christmas with, but at Pine Street Inn, he said he has found hope.

Holley is a regular visitor at the agency’s main homeless shelter in the South End, and on Saturday, he felt a sense of Christmas spirit when he received sweatshirts, gloves, hats, scarves and other cold weather gear during Pine Street’s annual Christmas Eve celebration.

Holley considers Pine Street staff his family, and soon, he will become certified in food safety through the agency’s iCater job training program, which provides cooking instruction and advice from professional chefs.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Holley said. “It’s tough being homeless and giving us a bed, but they do so much more.”

In addition to receiving the timely cold weather gear to keep warm, Pine Street visitors enjoyed a prime rib dinner and games on Saturday. A donor sponsored 1,000 meals for the festive evening at the shelter, said Barbara Trevisan, the agency’s vice president for marketing and communications.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley made his annual Christmas Eve visit to the shelter Saturday, highlighting how there’s a “great” urgency in helping Boston’s homeless population, especially as temperatures have plummeted to the lowest they’ve been all season. Saturday’s wind chill made Christmas Eve feel like it was in the low single digits across the region.

Homelessness is one of Boston’s biggest challenges due to the city’s lack of affordable housing, O’Malley said.

“Christmas is a time when we remember that our savior Jesus Christ was homeless, there was no room in the inn,” he said. “This is not just a problem at Christmas time, it is a challenge for people all year round. … As a community, we need to come together to find real solutions for this.”

Pine Street is in the process of expanding its housing options to get people out of the homeless shelters and into more permanent and stable living quarters. The homeless service agency operates about 850 housing units across Boston and in Brookline. Within the next year, Pine Street will be adding more than 250 units.

Several projects are under construction, including the development of 225 apartment homes on Washington Street in Jamaica Plain. About 140 of those units will provide support services for those moving out of homelessness. The other 85 units will be managed by city-based nonprofit The Community Builders and be income-restricted for families, according to Pine Street’s website.

Within the past year, Pine Street helped more than 1,100 men and women move from homelessness to housing, either to Pine Street Inn’s supportive housing or to other housing options.

Boston is the second most expensive city in the country for renters. The median rent price for a 1-bedroom is $3,060.

“There’s not a lot of inventory, so just about anybody could have challenges,” Trevisan said. “Imagine if you’re somebody who has disabilities, doesn’t have a job. A lot of people here do work, but if you work a job that pays minimum wage, you’re not going to be able to afford any market rate rents. There is a pressing need for housing.”

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