Mending the Cracks: Homeless Women in MA

Listening, learning and acting. One woman's 25-year journey catching highly marginalized women when they fall. 

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March 9, 2020 by Allie Meador

At Harvard Square at Cambridge, Katya Fels Smith sat and listened to women in a church basement talk about being underserved and underrepresented. These women were homeless and by meeting them where they were, she was able to learn and build trusting relationships with women all over the community. 


That was 25 years ago. Since then, Katya, founder at On the Rise, has been able to serve 500 women every year offering tangible essentials such as food, clothing, and showers. With the support of many in-kind donors giving physical supplies, the staff is able to focus on putting their resources back into the program itself.  By taking a long-term relational approach and looking at the whole context of a woman's life, employees and volunteers at On the Rise are able to catch women who might have fallen through the cracks and improve the effectiveness of our social service system for the most highly marginalized people. 

“When I first came to On The Rise, there were instances where I felt an inch away from a nervous breakdown, like I wanted to lie down in the middle of the street and not get up. The service that helped me most was On The Rise. It was the first and only service that allowed me to be me. They learned about my hopes and goals and helped me step in the right direction. On The Rise saved my life.” -Natasha 

On The Rise is a day program working with women who:

  • Are homeless and lack a permanent, safe, secure place to live

  • Are in crisis

  • Have experienced traumatic physical and/or emotional abuse by people and/or systems

  • Are falling through the cracks of our human service system because of the multiple and complex issues they face, and

  • Are living in severe poverty (even after they are housed)

The following information is based on On the Rise's 2019 program participant statistics: trauma+etc


race-ethnicityHomelessness is about so much more than not having a home.  Women at On The Rise face a complicated web of challenges that are often the result of traumatic experiences like childhood abuse and domestic violence; health conditions like chronic diseases, physical disabilities, and mental illness; systemic issues like poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression; the lack of affordable housing, education and job training; and the destructive coping methods that lead to alcoholism, drug addiction, and legal issues. 


“When I first came to On The Rise I was fleeing from a domestic violence relationship. I was emotionally and mentally drained and very isolated. Today, I am no longer a defeated woman. I know now that I have choices and that I can have victory over the challenges we all have in life.” 

If you'd like to support On the Rise this Women's Month, you can sponsor one woman's move home wish list here.  All donations are tax deductible and are shipped directly to On the Rise in Cambridge, MA. 

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