Dan Olson Journal Staff
The S.O.U.L.S. office, last Thursday, hosted a meeting for Suffolk students to talk with Donald McDougall, a former homeless, ex-marine, and now member of the Oasis Coalition Board of Directors, an organization devoted to serving the needs of the homeless in Boston. Students from Suffolk University are highly encouraged to volunteer their time at one of the many meals hosted at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul at 138 Tremont St.
“I’d like to see the Suffolk students rubbing elbows with our guests,” says McDougall. “Just having a cup of coffee or shootin’ the breeze. They just want someone to listen to them, it’s so important.”
The church serves approximately 115-175 meals per session, according to McDougall, and has gained national notoriety appearing in People Magazine. The organization also plans on starting a type of cooking program for those previously homeless individuals who have recently been able to come into living conditions, but do not have even the basic cooking skills they need to take care of themselves.
While most people believe they could understand what it would be like to be homeless, no one has a better understanding than McDougall himself. He admitted to being homeless for four years before becoming involved with the church.
“I never thought it could happen to me.”
He left the U.S. Marines in 1992 when his wife passed away, leaving their eight-year-old son in his care. Taking a job in construction near Ft. Meyers, Fl. helped pay the bills to support his son. However, after discovering that he had a type of gum cancer, three-and-a-half months in the hospital were enough to bring him down.
“We lost everything we had because I couldn’t work,” said McDougall. “I admit I’m not the most religious person, but spiritually I’ve stepped up to the plate over the years.”
And, during his time without a home, McDougall has learned a great deal about the homeless community and just how difficult it is to find that first job afterwards.
“If you don’t have an address, you’re not going to get a job—444 Harrison Ave.—Employers know this address,” he said. The address is the Pine Street Inn.
But, despite the hardships, there is apparently an amazing sense of community that develops, with over 6,900 homeless in Boston alone according to last year’s census. With this many though, rumors spread quickly, according to McDougall.
“In those four years I was homeless, I was dead three times.”
Now, McDougall has a similar sense of community but in a new way. He now serves meals to homeless at the church almost nightly and is a heavy advocate of the church’s services.
“There’s a meal being served somewhere in Boston every day except Thursday,” he says. “If you’re homeless and you’re hungry—you’re lazy.”
He now has become a favorite member of the team by those who accept the meals every night. Talking and listening to the homeless is all they really want and is therefore, extremely important.
Even today though, McDougall is still coming to terms with the fact that he was homeless for a period of time.
“I was ashamed to be homeless—they take a lot of guff from people—it’s a lack of self-esteem, I think,” he said. “At the end of the day, all we have is our honesty.”