Eight Perspectives on Homelessness in Worcester

1Q 2020: According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a person is homeless if they are staying/sleeping in a shelter or in a place not fit for human habitation (i.e., there are sheltered homeless and there are unsheltered homeless).
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

News

  • This quarter TFT received two grants: $2000 from The 200 Foundation and $1000 from Senior Whole Health. Donations from individuals and corporations raised total donations for this quarter to $5,400.
  • The WRTA has declared that bus fares will not be collected during the month of April due to the COVID-19 crisis. The drivers raised concerns for their safety. This being the case, TFT has suspended its distribution of bus passes for the same period.
  • As we have reported, the Greater Worcester Research Bureau published a report about a year ago analyzing the possibility of the WRTA running a “fare free" bus system. A committee has been formed to pursue this objective. Some public meetings have been held this year. Last year Worcester's Chamber of Commerce announced its endorsement for a three-year trial or prototype of a fare-free WRTA. In December, the Kansas City, MO City Council unanimously approved a switch to a fare-free public transit. Kansas City is several times larger than Worcester. The quest for funding to do a prototype in Worcester is still a work in progress. The Massachusetts legislature seems to be the best prospect to sponsor a prototype of fare-free busses in Worcester.
  • In 1Q20 TFT added Worcester's Ronald McDonald Mobile Clinic as the latest organization helping TFT to dispense its bus passes. (In the previous quarter Worcester's WIC program was the organization added.)
  • Although it will be a little later than originally expected, TFT expects to dispense its 10,000th single-day bus pass this summer!

Eight Perspectives on Homelessness in Worcester

Introduction

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a person is homeless if they are staying/sleeping in a shelter or in a place not fit for human habitation (i.e., there are sheltered homeless and there are unsheltered homeless). That’s HUD’s official definition.

In other contexts, even if the person is sleeping in a place intended for human habitation, the person will never-the-less be considered homeless if the person’s use of that place is “temporary.” Temporary in this context means there is a reasonable probability that the use of the space could suddenly cease. For example, if a potentially homeless family is invited by another family, perhaps relatives, to live with them for a few months, that family is still homeless (but not considered so by HUD).  This example is very common and often referred to as “doubled up.” Roughly 90% of homeless children attending school in Worcester are living in doubled up situations.

Finding more permanent solutions for any one homeless person by matching a potential living space to that person’s description is often a daunting task of navigating long list of issues related to the characteristics of the person and the management of the potential living space. This is a multi-dimensional problem.  In additional to marital status. age and gender, there are physical handicaps, mental illness, substance use, past history of crime, military status, credit history and rental history.  A homeless person assessing a potential permanent space will consider location in general, cleanliness, safety, proximity to work or school, number of rooms (if accommodating families), shared bathrooms, the nature of existing tenants, where the landlord lives and affordability. 

During its five years of existence, TFT has encountered multiple perspectives (our term) within greater Worcester. These perspectives overlap, i.e., they are definitely not mutually exclusive.

1.   Chronically Homeless
2.   Families in Crisis
3.   Families with children in the Worcester School System
4.   Unaccompanied homeless youth
5.   Homeless pregnant women
6.   Ex-felons returning to society
7.   Victims fleeing domestic violence
8.   Immigrants and Refugees

This article will look briefly at homeless persons in each of these perspectives and mention some, not all, greater Worcester charities that provide needed services in an effort to eventually get the homeless individual or family to be self-sustaining. Typically, that means finding employment as well as some form of permanent housing.

1. The Chronically Homeless

Definition/Description

This is a formal category with associated laws and government support programs. To qualify as chronically homeless, a person must meet two criteria. First, he or she must have a handicap (physical or mental). Second, the person must have been homeless for at least one year. The second criteria can also be met with four shorter, repeated episodes of homelessness over the past three years. Typically, the initial intervention service is to try to get the unsheltered person into a homeless shelter. This is especially critical during periods of sub-freezing temperatures because it is not unusual for a homeless person to die of hypothermia each winter in Worcester. For the last three years, a temporary winter shelter, named Hotel Grace, has been in operation for this purpose. It operates each evening in cold weather at St. John’s Church, near Union Station. Hotel Grace has 50 beds. Every night the first 50 people in line are admitted. There are some efforts linked to other shelters in the city to find a quick fix for others still in line.

Placement in a shelter is usually combined with supporting social services. It is an extra challenge when a chronically homeless individual wants to be placed with their significant other; then it is more than one individual being helped. The issue of couples wanting to stay together is one reason many choose to sleep outside.

Example Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

An important resource for those working with the chronically homeless is the Continuation of Care (CoC) meeting hosted by Central Mass Housing Authority. Meetings are held every other Wednesday at the South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) offices at the MLK Center on Dewey Street.  Participating organizations of the CoC contribute and monitor a limited inventory of potential housing options. The available inventory of housing options are matched with the most vulnerable individuals and families. Situations are presented anonymously. Two dozen organization representatives come to the meeting. Among the participants at the CoC meetings are the two social workers in Worcester who actually go outdoors around the city to interact with the chronically unsheltered homeless. Some homeless shelters in the city do not participate in the CoC, e.g., Visitation House, the YWCA, and Abby’s House. Veterans Inc. is a participant with a large capacity however only veterans are eligible to be in their shelter.

The City of Worcester has a dedicated full-time employee, Evis Teupollari, who provides homeless assistance. He is on the first floor of City Hall.

It is important to note that any person being placed in a homeless shelter is still homeless because, although no longer unsheltered, it is still a temporary placement.

2. Families in Crisis

Definition/Description

This perspective involves parent(s) and their children, in a family grouping. Housing under this perspective tends to be in apartments rather than homeless shelters or single rooms in rooming houses. A common solution for this is doubling up, i.e., moving the homeless family into the living space of another family who hosts them, usually a relative. Alternatively, the family might end up in a motel. In either case, although sheltered, the family is still homeless. Many families doubled up in Worcester relocated from Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria.

Example of Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

The CoC will deal with families, but most of its focus is on individuals. If the children are in the Worcester School System, then the family’s crisis will be managed by the schools as described in the next perspective below. The Greater Worcester Interfaith Hospitality Network on June Street has capacity for about six families that stay a few months while they re-stabilized their lives. The YWCA Domestic Violence Services is similar. These organizations usually assist the departing stabilized families with furnishing their new residence, including appliances and kitchen utensils (mostly from donations).

3. Families with Children in the Worcester Public School System

Definition/Description

These homeless families have children attending one or more of the public schools in Worcester. If such a family suddenly becomes homeless, for whatever reason, the school system must get involved under a federal law called McKinney Vento. This law mandates that Worcester provide free door-to-door transportation for each child impacted. Worcester is reimbursed by the federal government for the cost.  The Worcester Public Schools also help the parents in their crisis, with counseling, and in some cases bus fare to go to the relevant government services and charities to start the process of recovering. School system employees that do this are called “wrap-around coordinators.” The rationale for this extra assistance is that the child’s learning environment is not just in the school. It is also with the parents, who may be in a motel room, stressed, depressed and overwhelmed. 

Here are the latest numbers for the State of Massachusetts for primary nighttime residence for 24,777 homeless school students

K-12:

– Sheltered: 7,545  [30.5%]
– Doubled-up: 15,396  [62.1%]
– Unsheltered: 206  [0.8%]     
– Motels/Hotels: 1,625  [0.6%]

(Unsheltered means the students are sleeping in places not intended for human residency, such as in a car, a park, in a campground, etc.)

Example of Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

The Worcester School system has roughly 24,000 students enrolled. Of these, about 2100 are homeless, of which 90% are “doubled up.” In this perspective, the Worcester School System functions like a very large charity, administering the McKinney Vento regulations and supplying the “wrap-around coordinators” that assist the parents. In the Worcester School system, all this is managed by the school system’s Social Emotional Learning Administration. This administration also runs a Homeless Committee that meets several times each school year. Less frequently there are meetings with many of the wrap-around coordinators working in other central Massachusetts towns.

4. Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Definition/Description

In the world of public policy, the term “youth” typically includes an age range from 12 to 24, with some ranges starting younger or going to 25. An individual in this age range may be part of a homeless family, but not always. Those that are not, who are alone, surviving as best they can, are in this perspective. The emphasis here is on the word “unaccompanied.” These youths may be foster children that recently turned 18 and left foster care, or younger children who either ran away, perhaps to escape domestic violence, or were rejected by their family. One example is when the parents found out he or she was an LGBQ youth. This is probably one of the saddest homeless perspectives because these kids are very desperate and very vulnerable to exploitation. If they are not yet 18, they work hard to go unnoticed, and thus undetected, so they won’t be put back into the “system.” These youth, whose average age is 17, do a lot of “couch surfing” to find a sheltered place to sleep for each night. At last count there were 77 unaccompanied homeless youth in greater Worcester; two thirds were female. 8% had exchanged sex for money or housing. 31% had been involved with foster care. 68% were persons of color, 32% were Caucasian.

Example of Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

The Compass Network is a central MA group of service providers and charities focused solely on unaccompanied homeless youth. This networking group meets periodically to exchange information about resources and services. A similar group, The Youth Resources Network, managed by the Hope Coalition sponsored by Clark University, meets periodically with a focus on reducing youth violence (such as neighborhood gangs). Frequently efforts are made to reconnect the young person with their family.

Standup for Kids is a small charity in The Commons Mall, across from City Hall, that locates unaccompanied homeless youth and helps them any way it can. It does not provide shelter. Similar programs exist at LUK Inc., a charity located on Southbridge Street in Worcester.

To its credit, the City’s Department of Family and Children (DFC) has a pilot program with two dedicated social workers who seek out unaccompanied youth, treating them with respect, and trying to establish a relationship with them by offering help and maintaining contact with them. 

5. Homeless Pregnant Women

Definition/Description

If a woman gets pregnant and is an unsheltered homeless person, she is in extreme need of help, particularly if she decides to have the child rather than get an abortion. When the woman goes to a medical appointment, the doctor often finds out his patient is living in her car or in some other “unsheltered” accommodation. In these cases, there are not many options and an urgency to find a solution.

Example of Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

The primary option is Visitation House on Endicott Street, on Vernon Hill, not far from Kelley Square. Visitation House has two key criteria the woman must meet. First, she must be 18 or older. Second, she must be “clean,” i.e., have no substance use problems. The latter is because Visitation House does not have any staff to deal with substance use issues. Visitation House has ten rooms (cells of former nuns who once taught at a nearby Catholic school) each with enough space for the mother and eventually the infant. Bathrooms are shared. The women who qualify are allowed to stay during their pregnancy and up to six months after the birth. When they leave they are given a variety of equipment and supplies that have been given to Visitation House as in-kind donations from friends and businesses. While living at Visitation House, these women contribute their time and effort to maintaining the house and preparing meals. Planned Parenthood, on Pleasant Street, is often an option for medical assistance.

6. Ex-felons, Returning to Society

Definition/Description

An ex-felon returning to society has a high probability of becoming homeless unless immediately reintegrated with family or some other group, hopefully not a gang. They typically don’t have any money or a job and are behind in their education. To make things even harder, many landlords insist on CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) checks before accepting any new tenant, making it very hard to find a cooperating landlord. This is a real deal breaker if the jail term was for arson! Given the US justice system, most of these felons are persons of color, engendering racist attitudes from landlords even if that is illegal discrimination. Fortunately, some felons have been in job training programs while in jail, making it easier to get employment.

Example of Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

There are three organizations helping ex-felons in Worcester, mostly all dealing with men.

– Dismas House, based on Richards Street.
– EPOCA (Ex-prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement), based at Duck Soup on King Street.
– Straight Ahead Ministries, based on South Main Street

Dismas House provides shelter in Worcester and runs a farm that provides both shelter and employment in a welcoming community. The other two organizations provide counseling and assistance finding employment. (Also, there are services to help ex-felons to modify their CORI records.)

7. Victims Fleeing Domestic Violence

Definition/Description

This is another perspective of homelessness. Victims of domestic violence are primarily women, but occasionally also men. When these people get to the breaking point, they take their kids and leave. They try to go somewhere where their tormentor won’t find them. Security is the primary issue in this perspective. In some cases this means moving to another state. It definitely means helping the women with the appropriate legal services and the filing of criminal charges with the police.

Example of Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

The YWCA, on Salem Street next to the Worcester Public Library, has a domestic violence service. This is Worcester’s primary option for housing victims of domestic violence. It can accommodate roughly ten families. It operates within a multi-state network of such services that cooperate to move families to safe locations. It also helps steer women and their children to appropriate human service: trauma counselors and legal services.

8. Immigrants and Refugees

Definition/Description

Immigrants are people who come to the United States on their own initiative and who are not US citizens. Refugees are people who were invited to come to the US by the State Department and given temporary living space, i.e., apartments, that have been furnished and leased using State Department funds. In this perspective, it is usually immigrants who may become homeless   However, even refugees have a limited period after which they are on their own, and may eventually become homeless. The families who moved to Worcester from Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria are not considered immigrants because they were already US citizens.

Example of Worcester Organization with Relevant Services

Currently there is only one organization in Worcester that the State Department has funded to process refugees. That is the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center (RIAC) on the 8th floor of 340 Main Street. Another organization, Ascentria Care Alliance, is based on Shattuck Street and provides other services, e.g., training. A unique aspect of this homeless perspective is the need for training in English language skills, and counseling about American culture, law, and ethics. Heavy emphasis is placed on gaining employment and housing. (There are a few other services which assist immigrants.)

The Big Picture

The often-told story of the blind men trying to define an elephant is similar to trying to understand the characterization of homelessness in our society today. Worcester has many different organizations, mostly charities, working consistently and with great effort to help homeless people. It can take a very long time to assist some people who are homeless, particularly those with severe mental health conditions. With some dedicated assistance, others will be able to stabilize their lives, get employment and become contributing members of society.  However, in every case solutions for homeless persons need to address a wide range of building blocks to create stable lives, including education, housing, employment, transportation and public health, especially counseling for mental health. The salient need for Tasks for Transit is transportation. TFT provides an absolutely essential basic service, transportation, to an under-served population, a good portion of whom are homeless.

Stats from our March 2015 launch through March 2020

5
Partner Charities
5960
Bus Passes Dispensed
$ 22164
Spent on Bus Fares
32
Job Fare Kits Dispensed

More to explore

Eight Perspectives on Homelessness in Worcester

1Q 2020: According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a person is homeless if they are staying/sleeping in a shelter or in a place not fit for human habitation (i.e., there are sheltered homeless and there are unsheltered homeless).

Tasks for Transit Accomplishments for 2019

4Q 2019: TFT’s plan for 2019 was to continue its steady growth by adding four Partner Charities to its network. As has been done for the previous two years, one more was added during each quarter of 2019. TFT ended 2019 with 30 Partner Charities.

The Status of the Fare Free WRTA Idea

3Q 2019: In April 2019, the Greater Worcester Research Bureau published a report analyzing the possibility of the WRTA running a “fare free” bus system. Other cities, e.g., Portland, Oregon, are doing this or have done it in the past. Clearly, a fare-free WRTA would be a great benefit for those living in poverty.

Stay in touch

Get the latest scoop on what we’ve been up to with our quarterly newsletters.