woman against a brick wall

Homeless Helper


This article is part of a series on Innovative Internships.

Northeastern University junior Maddie Elsea ’19 serves as a case worker for men who face challenges with addiction and housing. She has spent the first six months of this year working full time at the Pine Street Inn in Boston as part of Northeastern’s cooperative education program. 

Being homeless and recovering from substance abuse would make life hard at any time. However, the pandemic, Elsea notes, has exacerbated those struggles. Her clients are particularly vulnerable to changes in government programs, which can affect their access to medical care, employment, and housing. And COVID-19 has caused upheaval on a huge scale. 

“The pandemic has impacted them intensely, and still does,” she says. Shelters, residential programs, and halfway houses had to cut significantly the number of people they can serve, she adds. 

“Our program capacity is typically 50 beds, but since the pandemic it has been 20,” she explains. “So you can imagine the amount of people that are left on the streets, with the emergency housing in Boston being so limited.” 

During her years at Williston, Elsea participated actively in the theater department, starring in the 2019 musical Crazy for You, and volunteered with the Community Service Club. Now a double major in social work and theater, her goal is to use both disciplines to help people through drama therapy, a branch of mental health work similar to art therapy or music therapy. 

This internship has convinced her that she’s on the right career path. “Each of the men that I work with are deserving of compassion, respect, and support, and my job at its core is really just to show them that,” she says.