I work two mornings a month at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) in Dudley Square, Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts. The task is to interview and diagnose the unemployed who assert that their inability to function in a work setting is due to major mental illness. The people I see often have histories of behavior that are consistent with, respectively, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, Mental Retardation, Schizophrenia, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Polysubstance Dependence, or Alcohol Abuse.
Around the corner from the DTA, still referred to popularly as “the welfare office,” is Haley House, a bakery-cafe, which has as its motto: “Food With Purpose.” The coffee and food are good at Haley House. Just as good is the business’s mission: As a non-profit, it teaches “essential job and baking skills to unemployed men and women aspiring to economic stability.”
The vibe is pleasant at Haley House. You could say it is irie.
Each Wednesday night, Haley House has, “Pizza and Beats.” On Thursday, it is, “Art Is Life Itself,” a night of, “Spoken Word, Music, Community and conversation.” Friday nights? Chef Zakiya Alake goes Vegan: “SistaZa’s V-Spot.”
Before or after a morning of listening to the mentally ill reveal the secrets of their existence, the vibrancy of what keeps them going, the mishmash of resilience and trauma, Haley House offers enormous relief.
Maybe next year we’ll see more such places sprout in cities suffering from unemployment.