Alumnus Michael Oliver Pursues Permanent Solutions to Homelessness in Boston

May 4, 2010
by Sharon Alexandra

“We don’t want to just manage homelessness; we want to end it. And permanent supportive housing is the key,” says R.B. Michael Oliver MC/MPA 2000, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for Pine Street Inn, New England’s largest resource for homeless adults.

For 40 years the staff at Pine Street Inn (PSI) has been addressing the root causes of homelessness. So when Oliver thought about how to parlay his Harvard Kennedy School education into his next career, he chose PSI.

“I want to make the biggest change on the world with the skills that I have, and the work that Pine Street Inn is doing to end homelessness is on a scale that meets my personal goals,” explains Oliver.

Oliver cites research that shows that the permanent supportive housing model not only works, it is also cost effective. “Housing people in a safe, supportive environment lowers the impact on other, more costly resources—emergency room visits and incarceration to name just two examples,” Oliver says.

Despite sustained efforts to develop more permanent supportive housing in greater Boston, there still aren’t enough units to meet the need, so on any given day up to 650 adult guests seek emergency services at PSI. Beyond a bed and meals, medical care and job training programs add to the efforts to create permanent solutions to the multiple issues faced by homeless individuals.

Oliver praises the broad network that makes all of these services possible. “We could not continue on as we do without the support of individuals, church groups, and corporate volunteer groups.”

In describing his role at Pine Street, Oliver explains, “I’m a story teller. It’s about being able to talk to everybody at their level to motivate them to support change, and it’s important to have more than one story to tell.”

Oliver determines what inspires the person he is addressing—faith, values, emotion, or economic realities—to show how the work of Pine Street Inn achieves that person’s philanthropic goals. Sometimes it’s through anecdotes or descriptions of the programs; sometimes it’s through hard data—facts and numbers to show the benefits of the work.

Oliver credits Harvard Kennedy School for arming him with the intellectual rigor and background he has found essential to success in raising money. Also his HKS classmates, he says, “make the world incredibly small,” spread as they are across the globe. And it’s a network with real potential. “A conversation between friends could turn into a coalition of resources.”

“I hope that I am part of raising the discourse on what needs to be done above the political level to a higher human level that has on-the-ground impact for people in need,” says Oliver. “That’s what must be done to end homelessness.”

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Michael Oliver

Michael Oliver MC/MPA 2000, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for Pine Street Inn, New England’s largest resource for homeless adults. Photo provided.

"I want to make the biggest change on the world with the skills that I have, and the work that Pine Street Inn is doing to end homelessness is on a scale that meets my personal goals." — Michael Oliver

Pine Street Inn

The Pine Street Inn at night. Photo provided.

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