Introducing Jon D. Hogue as the 2023 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award, State Rep. Natalie Higgins called him a zealous champion of his constituents with a laser focus on serving those in need.
Those attributes have been transformative in Hogue's work with North Star Family Services, which is raising money to build supportive, subsidized permanent housing that, when complete, will constitute 15 affordable apartments for local low-income families.
Hogue said his time at Fitchburg State taught him the importance of perseverance. "I thought I was going to learn knowledge, research, theory and all that," he said. "But you learn so much more. If you work hard, you will achieve. If you commit yourself, you will be successful."
Hogue has spent his professional life helping people. He graduated from Fitchburg State in 1987 with a degree in psychology, which he followed with a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Assumption University in 1992 and a doctorate in nonprofit management from Nova Southeastern University in 2004.
Hogue worked for many years supporting troubled children and families in residential treatment facilities, psychiatric hospitals and group homes. When the agency he worked for had to cut staff, he found himself looking for new opportunities.
He found North Star Family Services, formerly known as the Montachusett Interfaith Hospitality Network.
“What hooked me in was North Star works with homeless families,” Hogue said. “Kids are innocent in all this, and they don’t have a choice. We try to run this place like you’d run it if your own kids were here, because no kid is better or worse than another kid. They all deserve a nice place to get nice services so they can move on with their lives. Everybody deserves respect.”
North Star has run a five-family shelter in Leominster for years, and works with clients to address a wide matrix of social determinants of health. This includes helping clients address the underlying issues that have led to their homelessness.
"The agency was born out of church volunteers getting together and saying, ‘How can we help families?’ There shouldn’t be homeless families on the street," Hogue said. "The shelter’s like an emergency room, where we do triage. We try to help them solve what caused homelessness for them, what were the barriers that created homelessness. Many shelters build a roof and send them on their way in the morning. Here, we have case managers and directors who work with them on all these barriers, and how to solve some of them, so when they leave us they’re going to continue to be successful.”
Among the skills taught at the shelter is financial literacy, and helping clients find — and keep — good jobs. The program’s work is rewarding but emotionally challenging. “A lot of families are dealing with multi-generational homelessness,” Hogue said. “It’s hard. When you see the little kids’ faces and they don’t have a place to sleep that night, that’s tough. We are generally full all the time, with a waiting list 75 families deep.”
Now the organization is launching its most ambitious project yet, building their own apartment complex to provide long-term housing for 15 families, with tenants paying rents based on their income levels. With a planned groundbreaking this summer, Hogue said the project has been years in the making.
“The goal for us is when a family leaves us to go to their own apartment, and the kids get to actually have their own home and stability,” he said.
Hogue said his approach to human services is based on a simple but important principle. “If you don’t do it, who’s going to? That’s our attitude,” he said. “We try to do things right, and we try to do things to help families. All the staff here have children and we all know what it’s like to have a little one look up to you. Imagine if you didn’t have a place for your kids to sleep? We try to help families at their lowest build their dignity back.”