St. Paul AME Church

Our History

Hildebrand partners with families experiencing homelessness. We provide shelter, permanent housing, work readiness programs, and life skill development. We restore hope and build brighter futures.

A Perspective on the History of Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center, Inc.

A man wearing pastor's robes smiles at the camera.Reverend Leroy Attles can still recall the day he encountered a homeless mother and her children on the steps of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church one day back in 1984. He remembers being troubled by knowing they had no place to stay.

“…They were in the street. That hit my heart,” Rev. Attles said, in a recent interview. “How would you live in the street?” It was like a burden on my heart to have people who didn’t have a place to lay their head,” he recalled.

Attles was the pastor of St. Paul AME, and, at the time, St. Paul had recently established a social action ministry that provided food, clothing and other services for people in need. That ministry was first called the Hildebrand Outreach Center.

“As a Christian, I felt the work I did at St. Paul was led by the Lord,” Attles said.
He said that encountering the homeless woman on his steps had a very real impact on him. “I was inspired to do something,” said Attles, who became more poised for action to help homeless people.
Attles said he requested a social worker at the church’s Henry Buckner School to research homelessness.

During that same general period, in 1986, Philip Mangano, became the director of Homeless Services for Cambridge. Mangano was trying to find potential new sites to house homeless people, because, at that time, many of Cambridge’s homeless were forced to stay at out-of-town shelters or welfare motels far from Cambridge. Mangano spoke to a lot of people and met a social worker who worked at the Hildebrand Outreach Center. At some point, Mangano learned that St. Paul’s owned two buildings near the church and requested to meet with Rev. Attles. The two discussed Mangano’s idea of St. Paul’s allowing the old building that housed the church rectory and one other church-owned building to be converted to house homeless people. While Mangano was accustomed to people saying “No” to various proposals to establish shelters, he still recalls Attles listening quietly and thoughtfully to his proposal before saying “Yes.” “Rev. Attles was just resolute at that first meeting,” Mangano said.

Rev. Attles’ decision sparked many people into action and had long-term consequences. Mangano arranged for city departments to help rehab the two buildings. He arranged for the state Department of Public Welfare to approve the project and to create a contract with St. Paul’s and to fund most of the $150,000 rehab project.

“What was unusual and unique about Hildebrand was (that there were) buildings they offered for sheltering homeless families,” Mangano said.

Many people, including a critical group of volunteers, worked hard to prepare for Hildebrand’s launch and continuing expansion through the years.

In 1988, Hildebrand became an independent 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. That year, Hildebrand faced a seemingly impossible deadline of completing the conversion of the second building – an old home at 41 Columbia St. into the shelter’s latest transitional house for the homeless by June 30th. Somehow, amazingly, volunteers got the job done.  The organization is named after the regional bishop, Rev. Richard Allen Hildebrand, who authorized the rehabilitation of St. Paul’s former parsonage for use as a shelter for homeless families.

July 4, 1988, Boston Globe article, in one passage, described the effort: “On Friday, July 1, some of the volunteers sat in a sun-flooded room that smelled of freshly-cut flowers and drying plaster as they talked about a union between church and state that bordered, they mused, on miraculous. A job estimated at $25,000 and targeted for completion in 6 months had been finished for free in less than two weeks. Union and nonunion hands had worked side by side. At least two dozen local merchants had donated furnishings, architects had donated plans, engineers had donated calculation…” the Globe stated.

One person who played a key role in 1988 was Linsey Lee, the city’s resource coordinator for emergency programs. Lee helped mobilize volunteers and businesses and others into action.

From 1987 until the fall of 1991, the rehabilitation of the buildings was completed. One lodging house was located at 39 Bishop Allen Drive and the second, previously mentioned, was located at 41-43 Columbia St in Cambridge. Together, they provided temporary housing for up to 14 families. Hildebrand also provided services to help families develop their educational, vocational and life skills necessary to stabilize their lives while seeking permanent homes.
From the outset, Hildebrand has emphasized a “self-help” philosophy with its families while trying to give individuals the tools necessary to help themselves in the future.

A 2007 edition of the Hildebrand Herald newsletter, described its mission like this:  “We partner with homeless families in their journey toward recovery and renewal. We not only provide refuge but also help families become strong and self-sufficient. We help to break the cycle of homelessness, restore hope, and to build brighter futures.”

In 1992, Hildebrand expanded more, adding 20 apartment units throughout Boston through its new Scattered Site Family Emergency Shelter Program and five units of affordable housing in Cambridge. The Scattered Sites Program offered English as a Second Language (ESL), GED preparation, and computer skills to heads of households. In addition, Hildebrand case managers worked with families to increase their “life skills” in areas such as parenting and budgeting.
The organization also follows the guidelines of Housing First, which emphasizes that the best way to end homelessness is to help homeless individuals and families find permanent housing, and, then receive services to help them gain long-term stability.

Currently, the Hildebrand serves 126 families at any given time within its congregate living and scattered-site programs as well as 11 units of permanent housing, and operates on an annual budget of $6.2 million.

Historically, there is another very important factor surrounding the creation of Hildebrand. In the mid-80s, although there were African-Americans among the homeless in Cambridge and other cities, almost all shelters were led by white people.

Because St. Paul’s AME, a predominantly African-American church, initiated efforts to establish Hildebrand, Mangano said, it was a “culturally appropriate” response that stood out for that reason.

Do you want to help support Hildebrand?


614 Massachusetts Avenue
Third Floor
Cambridge, MA 02139
Ph: 617-491-5752
F: 617-491-2385

Mon-Fri 9:00 AM-5:00 PM *congregate living programs are staffed 24/7
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