With but two fleeting mentions in all of Infinite Jest, and no scenes taking actually place within its walls, the Pine Street Inn is only a peripheral setting, albeit one bestowed with an unappealingly memorable designation: “the biggest and foulest homeless shelter in all of Boston.”
It is first referenced in a terrific early Ennet House chapter consisting solely of unattributed resident dialogue. The attentive reader will recognize it is Bruce Green who stayed there for a time with his girlfriend, Mildred Bonk, and their daughter, Harriet Bonk-Green, once Mildred could no longer put up with their trailermate, the “infamous harelipped” pot dealer and snake owner Tommy Doocy (or Doocey). Unfortunately for Bruce, it is also where he soon loses the “fatally pretty and nubile wraithlike” Mildred L. Bonk, to a “guy with a hat” who claimed to ranch “longhorn cows east of Atlantic City NJ.”
Much later, in a section about Don Gately’s horrendous graveyard-and-day shift work schedule, we hear that it is where Stavros Lobokulas, “a troubling guy with a long cigarette-filter and an enormous collection of women’s-shoes catalogues he keeps piled behind the seats in the cab of his 4x4,” oversees the cleaning efforts of two “broke and desperate yutzes” from area halfway houses.
The Pine Street Inn is described in a bit more detail in author Nick Flynn’s memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, as occupying “an entire city block of Boston’s South End,” the building itself “a landmark, a replica of a Sienese tower, marking the entrance into Boston as you drive north on I-93. The tower was used by fireman for a hundred years to practice jumping from a burning building into a net below. Then it became a shelter.”
Elsewhere in American letters, it is favorably reviewed on Yelp (!), where one contributor advises that “[c]ontrary to the name, Pine Street Inn is not a top notch Maine Bed and Breakfast” but in fact a “a top notch Boston homeless shelter” and one of “the few good things founded in 1969.”
My own visit was very brief and exterior only. The shelter was just one spot on the itinerary of a taxi cab tour of South Boston and Jamaica Plain, locations that will be profiled here later in the week. Ultimately, I can’t really say whether the Pine Street Inn is the foulest homeless shelter in the Boston area—let’s just say the reviews are mixed—but I can confirm that it is pretty big.