🏘️Why People are Homeless🏘️

By Nahani Meuse

Nahani Meuse

People are homeless because they can’t afford the ever-rising, sky-high rents. That is it. It isn’t because they “choose” to be homeless. It isn’t because they’re criminals. It isn’t because they’re addicted to a substance. It isn’t because they’re “lazy” or won’t work. People are homeless because they can not afford rent. Period.

I’ve lived in Worcester for well over a decade. I’ve personally been homeless and slept in my vehicle in Worcester. I’ve been homeless despite being college-educated, working two full-time jobs, making a six-figure income. After that experience, I shifted my professional plans and chose to work in this city to assist those like me. People who have no place to call “home” despite their best efforts. People who are looked down upon by the bulk of our society and overlooked by the rest. People who truly just need a helping hand to reclaim their lives. I couldn’t do nothing. I’m not the kind of person who can complain about a problem and not work to solve it.

Watching Worcester, the city that I call home, standing eyes wide shut in the middle of this housing crisis is sickening to me. We admittedly have less than 25% of the shelter beds in this city that we need based on our unsheltered population; yet Worcester City Manager Eric Batista says the city can’t put resources into shelters!

No one believes a shelter is a substitute to housing, but a well-modeled, service-rich, client-centered shelter that provides safety from the elements while connecting individuals to the various resources needed to
exit homelessness is sorely needed in Worcester on a year-round basis.

Affordable housing and inclusionary zoning laws are great, but don’t go far enough and literally do nothing for those folks who don’t or can’t make 60% AMI. We need no- to low-income, no-barrier housing options. We have one option coming on board this calendar year that will provide a few of those units, but that housing development was planned in 2018 … that is five full years between planning and executing.

So even if the City of Worcester plans and commits to a couple hundred units of supportive housing today, we won’t have access to those units for another half-decade.

Where are folks supposed to sleep in the interim?

The City of Worcester won’t enact a campsite sweep moratorium, so if we don’t have housing and we don’t have shelter beds and people aren’t allowed to sleep in a tent … then where should these hundreds of
individuals go?

We have no public restrooms in the city. We have no daily warming or cooling centers.

Though in the last several years we have had shower and hygiene options for the unsheltered in Worcester, we now no longer have those available either. We’ve lost treatment beds for those struggling with addiction; our substance use treatment beds in the state are already only half of what is needed for the population.

Our city manager says he will work with healthcare facilities to address the mental health of our unhoused population; but explain to me how that will work when our healthcare facilities are already overwhelmed and boarding mental health patients for 5+ days in the ER while conducting statewide bed searches.

News articles coming out each week about backlash and neighborhood complaints when a shelter or housing option is proposed. The NIMBY-ism is truly sickening. Seeing our city accepting that hatred and caving to that vitriol is absolutely disgusting.

Our people are our biggest asset and we are failing one another.

Anyone could end up homeless; an
accident, injury, loss of a job/income, loss of a spouse, mental health crisis, fire, etc is all it takes. Our housed neighbors are burdened paying 50% – 70% of their income on housing alone! Prices continue to rise. Subsidies and public housing have a 6 to 10 year wait list. Property management agencies demand 3 times the rent in income, credit scores above 680, perfect rental history, etc.

We provided shelter and services to more than 250 people this past winter. Men, women, veterans, elderly, high school students all stayed with us to seek assistance. An educator working each day to
teach our city’s youth only to return to a shelter each night. A first responder, hairstylists, construction workers, social workers, auto mechanics, estheticians, vet techs, admin assistants, landscapers, welders, wait staff, retail managers, recovery coaches – ALL homeless! All desperate to find a home of their own, all working and paying taxes yet unable to have a safe place to sleep each night. All struggling to hide the fact that they are homeless from their employers, friends, coworkers because they hear the rhetoric and they see how others feel about and act toward the unsheltered individuals in our city.

We are better than this! It isn’t going to be easy to remedy the mess we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into, but it is possible. This is a very complex issue that requires a strategic, comprehensive and
multifaceted approach to solve; but I assure you it is possible. Experts, data and research do not lie.

We know how to address this crisis, and we can do so if the city manager will listen to the experts in this field and follow the evidence-based practices we continue to insist upon.