Homelessness in Worcester … What I See

By Parlee Jones

Peace Worcester People!  I hope these writings reach you in the best of health ~ spiritually, emotionally and physically! Working in the human services field in this day and time is no easy task.  The lack of resources in place to help people is real and intimidating.  The amount of families and individuals who are falling through the cracks with no assistance, who don’t qualify for services through certain state and city funding is a growing concern. The gulf between the haves and have not’s is widening.  I am frustrated with having no where to refer people in need.  I think one of the worst things we can do as community support people in the community is to make empty referrals.

 Let’s start with a few statistics from Central Mass Housing Alliance ( www.cmhaonline.org ), which is one of the local agencies doing their part to assist people in need, the following stats from March 2013 are alarming:

 Massachusetts is the 7th most expensive state to live in, according to the 2013 Out of Reach Report of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.” 

My experience with this has been the lack of AFFORDABLE HOUSING which is different from MARKET RATE HOUSING. Right now, for a decent 3 bedroom, the average rent is about $900.00.  This is not affordable housing when the gap between housing and income is as follows …

“Gap Between Housing Costs and Income: According to the 2013 Out of Reach Report of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment in Worcester HMFA is $966. At the time of this study, 56% of renters in Worcester HMFA were unable to afford this level of rent with utilities. In order to afford this cost, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, one must earn an hourly wage of $18.58, assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year. This compares to the mean renter wage in Worcester, which is only $11.69 an hour.”

Keeping in mind that the minimum wage is $8.00 an hour, most of the people I know actually pay about 50% of their income for housing.  This does not leave much wiggle room for food, transportation, clothing, health care and just plain living.  There is the Section 8 program and other voucher programs, but the wait list and availability of these is few and far between.

“Family Homelessness across the Commonwealth: There are over 2,000 families in the state’s Emergency Shelter units, with 1,229 additional families in motels as of March 19, 2013. This number does not include the number of families who do not qualify for Emergency Assistance who are staying in non-EA community shelters throughout the State.”

So in order to access Family Shelter through the state of Massachusetts, you must apply at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) through the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).  If you do not qualify through DHCD, which controls approximately 90% of all shelter beds in the state you have to look for what they call non-EA community beds.  In Worcester, that would be Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) which has a wait list of about 40 families and Friendly House which has a mixture of EA and non-EA spaces, and is always full.  This is very frustrating.  The number of families who are deemed ineligible by the state is ridiculous.  Actually, the rules and regulations change so frequently it is kind of hard to follow. 

Homelessness is on rise in Worcester County: In comparing the 2011 and 2012 HUD Point in Time Count Results, the total number of homeless persons in Worcester County increased by 20%, from 1315 to 1580. This includes a 44% increase in the total number of homeless individuals (without children), from 369 from 2011 to 530 in 2012, and an 8% increase in the total number of homeless families (with children), from 309 in 2011 to 333 in 2012. This count does not include those moving from one temporary location to another or living doubled-up because they lack a home of their own.

Yes!  I see an increase in the number of people coming to do an intake with me at Abby’s.  We will take single women or women with children.  Our length of stay has increased from 2 weeks to 1-3 months.  We are able to look at each person as an individual.  The number of women that are losing their jobs and homes is rising.  Ages in this category go from 30 – 60.  The number of young women aging out of programs and looking for work is rising.  The number of women who have lost their children to DCF and need a roof over their heads to get them back is rising.  (Abby’s House is the only shelter in central Massachusetts that will work with women / DCF with reunifications).  Why DCF and DHCD don’t have a working relationship will remain a mystery to me,  especially when the only barrier to mom getting her child/ren back is housing.  I have also seen an increase of families and individuals trying to relocate to Worcester because they have lived here in the past or a friend told them to come and then couldn’t house them because their landlord said NO or they have a subsidy. 

Youth Homelessness in Worcester: According to the results of the Point-in-Time survey of Youth and Young Adults in Worcester, conducted in October of 2012, conducted by the Roundtable on Youth Homelessness in conjunction with the Compass Project and Clark University, 120 of the 753 young people surveyed (ages 13 to 25) identified as homeless (living in shelters, couch surfing, or on the streets). In addition to these 120 young people, another 220 youth who were housed reported that they had a friend who was homeless. 

This is another area of great concern.  The number of young people who are looking for shelter is sad.  Whatever the cause of this young person having to leave home, or having left home long ago is mute.  Bottom line is they need a roof over their head in order to be safe.  There are programs out there that are working on this.  The Compass Program through LUK is one that is doing great work.  Abby’s can also have 3-4 women between the ages of 18 and 24 at any given moment.  We have hosted women from 18 to 86 since I have been the shelter advocate.  The work of community support people and case managers are so important to help people navigate these systems.

At this time, there is not such thing as emergency shelter in the city of Worcester.  There is no place you can just go if you need a roof over your head for the night.  The PIP used to provide that service, but now, you must do an intake and meet certain criteria in order to stay in their beautiful new triage facility at 25 Queen Street where they have space for 25 men and women on the first floor and 15 single rooms for people moving on towards housing.   People who are trying to relocate to Worcester via the shelter system will find it is a lot more difficult to do nowadays.  Families are being turned away.  I hear daily of people sleeping in their cars. 

Don’t know where this road will lead us … I do know that SMOC, HOAP, Catholic Worker, Friendly House, Abby’s House and Interfaith Hospitality Network will continue to do their best to help who they can.  Yes, other family shelters exist in Worcester, but you must go through DHCD to gain access.  As frustrating as this work is becoming … we cannot give up the battle. 

It is important that anyone working with the homeless knows what is available in the city.  Central Mass Housing Alliance in conjunction with Abby’s House, Friendly House and Worcester Community Connections Coalition, affiliated with YOU Inc.  will be presenting its 2nd Family Housing Information Forum on Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 from 10 am to 3 pm.  It will be an opportunity for Worcester providers to share and learn about resources available for families who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.  Presentation topics will include Homeless Prevention Resources, Navigating the Emergency Assistance System (Family Shelter), Assisting Non-EA Families (those that don’t qualify through the state), Veteran’s Issues, Public Housing in Worcester, Utility Arrearage Resources, Negotiating DCF reunification and housing, Fair Housing Law, including info on CORI and immigration and Domestic Violence Resources.  We do have to limit agencies to 3 people due to the high demand of this info.  If you are working in a Community Support position you do not want to miss out on this great workshop. If you are interested in more info on this workshop please contact parlee@abbyshouse.org and I will get the info to my friend Miranda at CMHA.  We are also planning on an Individual Housing Information Forum for Single folks.  Be on the look out for that also!

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