BROCKTON — One recent afternoon, Ray Gaessler settled into his room in the old Roadway Inn just off the highway, left a pot of onions, peppers, and sausage to simmer, and then melted into his favorite chair to watch a John Wayne classic.
He was home.
“I cook every day, three times a day,” the 73-year-old said with a laugh. “And I buy everything on my own.”
Gaessler, who has depended on Social Security payments since a bad car accident left him unable to work years ago, was nearly homeless just before Christmas 2020 after a new landlord bought his East Side apartment and raised the rent beyond what he could afford. He turned to MainSpring House, a Brockton shelter, where he stayed briefly before moving to the Roadway, which had been converted into an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, Gaessler is a full-time tenant there, paying 30 percent of his income as rent.
Gaessler’s apartment represents the latest strategy in the effort to find housing for the homeless, a creative alternative to the traditional congregate-shelter setting that many homeless people tend to avoid, because of their lack of privacy, and that posed health risks during the pandemic.
With a housing-first focus to get people off the street, homeless service providers are retrofitting old hotels, which are already split into separate rooms equipped with plumbing and other infrastructure. The hotels were deserted in the economic pains caused by the pandemic, and their initial use as emergency shelters proved they could be used for long-term housing, too.
Gaessler’s apartment — a modestly sized studio with a full bathroom, a new kitchenette, and enough space for his extensive DVD collection — is one of 69 units at the Roadway. The space was converted to permanent housing last year by Father Bill’s and MainSpring, a homeless service provider with offices south of Boston.
Meanwhile, in Boston, the Pine Street Inn, the region’s largest provider of homelessness services, is proposing to turn a Dorchester Comfort Inn into more than 100 permanent, supportive units catered toward those experiencing chronic homelessness, though that proposal has seen some community opposition.