By Lorie Martiska
On December 19, 2022, a new temporary winter shelter for people experiencing homelessness opened at the Phelan Center at Blessed Sacrament Church on Pleasant Street in Worcester. The shelter project was a collaboration between the City of Worcester, Blessed Sacrament Church, the United Way of Central Mass and Open Sky Community Services. Open Sky is operating the shelter.
Homelessness is a pervasive challenge in Worcester and across the state and country. For people who are unsheltered during the cold weather months, the risk of injury or death from exposure rises dramatically. In Worcester, the situation was worsened by the closure of a shelter. For these reasons, a group of concerned agencies assembled with the City of Worcester in the fall, to discuss the upcoming winter.
Why isn’t the former St. Paul’s School on Chatham Street converted into safe housing/ affordable studios for Worcester’s homeless youth? Only four or five people work out of this HUGE, grand beautiful building! It used to be a Catholic school filled with a couple of hundred students and staff! Bathrooms, hardwood floors, beautiful rooms, a basement with rooms … all in pristine condition. photos+cutlines: Rose T.
After multiple options were explored, the parish council at Blessed Sacrament Church, led by Father Tom Landry, agreed to approve the request to use the Phelan Center as a temporary winter shelter on November 28, 2022. A community meeting was convened on December 11, and representatives from the shelter and several City Councilors attended the Newton Hill Neighborhood group meeting later that week.
Mini homeless camp on Millbury Street in Worcester’s Canal District.
While some neighbors expressed concern about the shelter location, since the shelter has opened, there are more offers of donations and support than complaints. The Shelter Director, Maydee Morales, and Shelter Operations Manager Nahani Meuse, as well as Open Sky leaders continue to make themselves available to residents and businesses in the neighborhood to answer questions and address any concerns that may arise. In addition, Open Sky is sharing a neighborhood update newsletter with the community and will be co-hosting another neighborhood meeting with the City of Worcester later in January.
Staying warm in downtown Worcester.
The shelter staff have invited guests to join them on trips outdoors in the neighborhood to clean up trash, with a goal of making it clear that the shelter wants to be a good neighbor and contribute positively to the community. Guests are also required to sign a Good Neighbor Policy and are not permitted to congregate outside the shelter. Smoking breaks are scheduled and guests are accompanied by staff.
The use of alcohol and other substances is not permitted in the shelter or on the grounds. Onsite security is provided 24/7 by Jet Security.
The model of the shelter, which is open 24 hours a day, is to offer a wide range of supportive services in addition to a warm bed and three meals a day. Guests are offered medical care, housing navigation resources, connections to benefits, recovery supports, mental health services, employment services, access to substance use treatment, clothing and more. There are four showers in a mobile trailer, and guests’ clothes are washed at no charge by an area laundromat.
Homeless in the Canal District.
Within four hours of opening on December 19, the shelter had reached capacity at 60 guests. Every day people arrive seeking shelter. Although these additional people cannot be accommodated as shelter guests, the staff meet with each person and call other shelters and resources to help them find a safe place to stay.
Donations of warm clothing, brand new undergarments in various sizes, shoes, boots and non-perishable snacks, as well as games and activities are welcome. Contact Brian.Ashmankas@openskycs.org or Maydee.Morales@openskycs.org to discuss donations and offers to volunteer at the Shelter.
The shelter is funded by the State of Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.
Open Sky Community Services is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization headquartered in Worcester. As one of the largest behavioral health service providers in Central Mass, we employ 1200 staff in over 100 programs and have an annual budget in excess of $100 million.
Our philosophy and approach to service delivery is built upon a commitment to provide the best possible care and services in a manner that places the individual at the center, addresses complex needs and provides the skills, treatment, and tools to help individuals achieve their goals. We utilize evidence-based models such as Motivational Interviewing, Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Housing First and more, to effectively engage people in opportunities for growth and stability.
Open Sky has a whole-person approach to care that addresses social determinants of health to improve the health of our communities and has helped the agency to achieve wide-ranging success serving people with behavioral health challenges, intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, brain injury and others. We prioritize community inclusion and helping individuals to achieve valued roles in the community.
Open Sky is firmly committed to helping the individuals we serve achieve fulfilling lives through opportunities, relationships, and wellness in alignment with our mission: “blending best practices with the power of community, we partner with individuals and families to see and live beyond perceived limitations to pursue fulfilling lives”. Services are rooted in trauma-informed, person-centered, strength-based approaches. We measure outcomes and make decisions based on data and partner with local community entities, both public and private, to continually assess community health assets and needs and implement services that directly address service gaps to meet the diverse cultural and linguistic needs of local residents and to achieve health equity.
Lorie MMartiska is Vice Vice
President of Advancement at
Open Sky Community Services in Worcester. To make a referral or check bed availability for the shelter, call the main Shelter Line at 774-502-9105.