Worcester’s Stepping in the Right Direction in Caring for the Homeless

Sarah Reinbrecht, Scarlet Staff

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Multiple regions of the United States have experienced extreme cold in the past week, and in Worcester, temperatures have recently reached the single digits. In the extreme cold, attention shifts to an already vulnerable population: homeless people. In Worcester county, there are 1,507 homeless people (National Alliance to End Homelessness), which is an overall decrease from previous years. However, homeless veterans and homeless unaccompanied youth increased from 2017 (Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance).
In the city of Worcester, a primary resource for homeless people regardless of temperature is the South Middlesex Opportunity Council Triage Center, located at 25 Queen St., less than a mile away from Clark University. It is a “wet” shelter, meaning it accepts all people regardless of substance abuse. However, it has 25 beds available, and though they do accept people beyond their capacity in cold weather, some argue 25 beds is too little for the second largest city in New England (Worcester Magazine). Additionally, homeless people can also turn to Hotel Grace for shelter. Located in St. John’s Church, Hotel Grace provides people a place to stay when temperatures drop below freezing.
Along with these shelters, Worcester also has a Quality of Life team that tackles a variety of problems including homelessness. Formed in 2015, the team includes members from the police force and various city departments. Their work includes a variety of efforts all focused on improving the city. In an effort to help homeless people, the team connects homeless people to transportation, shelters and medical and mental health support while also providing blankets and toiletries as necessary.  
Though the Triage Center, Hotel Grace, and the Quality of Life team all work to temporarily house people and ensure their well-being, the ultimate goal of the Triage Center is to permanently rehouse individuals rather than have them stay at the center for an extended amount of time. Similarly, Jack Foley, Vice President for Government and Community Affairs for Clark University, asserts that affordable, safe housing is the ideal solution to chronic homelessness. In his view, rather than have large shelters that people rely on, shelters should provide emergency housing, and the ultimate goal should be permanent housing. Though permanent housing is difficult for a variety of reasons (such as potential mental health problems or substance abuse), permanent housing will ultimately enable individuals to improve other aspects of their life.
Foley’s perspective aligns with Worcester’s Housing First policy as well as various other efforts to minimize the problem of homelessness. As a city, Worcester works to ensure permanent housing and necessary support for chronically homeless individuals (The City of Worcester). Similar to Foley’s perspective, the city believes ensuring people have stable housing and support to maintain that housing will allow them to address other issues such as substance abuse (The City of Worcester).
Beyond the city of Worcester, Clark University works to improve homelessness by working with the Main South Community Development Corporation (CDC). A primary goal of the CDC is to create and maintain affordable housing in the Main South area. Foley views Clark University and the CDC as partners in the community; while he stresses that the CDC is independent, Clark University has aided the CDC financially through loans. These loans help cover the various costs of buying and building various houses, such as maintenance and insurance fees. Furthermore, Clark offers free tuition to accepted students living in the Main South community, which is mentioned on the CDC website. Free tuition makes the community more attractive to live in, while also providing potential students the opportunity to receive an education. Foley says Clark University’s efforts to reduce homelessness have been fairly consistent throughout the years and are more extensive than other universities in the area.