Tag Archives: affordable housing crisis in Worcester

🏘️🏘️Common Myths About Homelessness🏘️

By Lorie Martiska

Lorie. photo submitted.

Many people believe common myths about homelessness. These myths can foster a climate of fear and intolerance for people experiencing homelessness. The reality is that homelessness is not an individual problem – yet these myths tend to lay the blame on individuals. Homelessness is a societal problem and one that communities, providers, cities and states must work together to address.

What are some of these myths?

🏘️1. Homeless people should just
get a job.

According to the Council for the
Homeless, a common myth is that
“these people just need to get a job”.
In fact, many of the homeless living in shelters DO have a job or even more than one. A recent report concluded to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Worcester, a family would need to earn close to $60,000 a year. For those who are unemployed, living in a car, a tent, or on the street, fnding and keeping a job is a daunting task when they are struggling with day- to- day

🏘️2. People are homeless by choice.

Being homeless can be stressful,
humiliating, exhausting and
dangerous. People would rarely, if
ever choose to be homeless. Some
homeless people do choose to live
outside rather than in a shelter because they have pets or possessions they want to retain and protect. Some people are living with physical, mental health symptoms or addictions that make their lives and decisions more diffcult. Some people became homeless because of a series of unfortunate events – loss of job, loss of family, or other circumstances. Regardless of the reason, it is almost never because they chose to be homeless.

🏘️3. People who are homeless are all dangerous, violent criminals.

Like the general population, the
vast majority of homeless individuals are focused on their own struggles and challenges and not engaged in violence or crime of any type. In fact, homeless people are far more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators.

🏘️4. Housing or shelter should come
with conditions, like being clean
and sober.

The conventional wisdom used to
be that housing should be dangled
like a carrot to entice someone to be treated for substance use disorders frst. Evidence has proven that an approach called Housing First is far more effective. Homeless people can fnd stability and healing when provided with empowering supports focused on stable housing frst. It
is very diffcult to address medical, mental health challenges and/or addictions when living on the streets or in an unsafe and unstable situation.

🏘️5. Most people will cycle back onto the streets and will not stay housed.

Rapid Rehousing and Permanent
Supportive Housing, highly effective strategies that combine affordable housing with intensive coordinated services, can provide needed assistance to help people remain housed. A recent study found that Rapid Rehousing ( quickly housing someone who has become homeless along with supportive services when needed), resulted in 70% – 90% of people remaining housed after a year.

🏘️6. There is nothing I can do to
affect homelessness.

There are things we can do. Be kind. For those who are unhoused, being treated with kindness is a rare commodity. Your act of kindness could be the only sign of humanity they experience throughout
the day. Volunteer to help. Shelters and other programs for the homeless welcome volunteers who donate meals, activities, clothing and their time.

Speak Up. Advocate for person
centered trauma-informed supports
that meet people where they are at.

Advocate for community solutions
and vote for people who support community-wide and evidence-based approaches to addressing homelessness.

🏘️Is it Possible to End Homelessness in Worcester?🏘️

By Lorie Martiska

Lorie. photo submitted.

In 2011, Worcester celebrated reaching an important milestone. The City declared it was at “functional zero” for adult chronic homelessness, meaning that as people became homeless, the system was able to quickly provide support and housing, so that periods of being unhoused were rare and brief.

The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts had funded an initiative called Home Again, with $2.2 million. The project focused on Housing First, an evidence-based practice where people are housed as quickly as possible, and then offered services and support that they can choose to access if they wish. Case management was provided through Mass Health and occupancy funding provided by federal and state governments.

In November 2022, according to data from the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance (CMHA), there were 586 homeless people in the City ( of which 226 were unsheltered). Far from “functional zero”. So what happened?

Causes of Homelessness

Lack of Affordable Housing is the number one reason there are more homeless today than in 2011. The average one- bedroom apartment in Worcester costs $1500, and the supply is small, creating competition for a limited number of apartments. The Opioid epidemic and lack of low-barrier access to needed mental health and medical services have also contributed. Domestic violence and racial inequality are also factors that can lead to homelessness.

Larger cities like Worcester are often the most affected by this crisis because people seeking supports, transportation and jobs often flock to cities where resources are more readily available. For this reason, Worcester is working with a group of 14 of Massachusetts’ largest cities to ensure that no one City bears the burden for all, and that all can benefit from innovation and lessons learned.

So is homelessness solvable?

According to Community Solutions, a national organization leading the charge for “Built for Zero,” homelessness is indeed solvable. They note that homelessness is a societal choice, not a personal one. “Ending it takes improving systems, not blaming individuals,” according to their website www.communitysolutions.org

The National Alliance to End Homelessness agrees, noting that “housing is a platform for stability, and a key contributor for long-term recovery and relapse reduction for people who are homeless”.

They outline key solutions for ending homelessness:

* Coordinated approaches to delivering services, housing and programs

* Rapid Rehousing with short term rental assistance and supportive services

* Permanent Supported Housing for the most vulnerable, chronically homeless persons

* Coordinated entry, planning, and data collection

* Coordinated Crisis Response including outreach, coordinated entry, diversion, emergency shelters and permanent housing as end goal

* Increasing income through employment and connection to needed benefits to ensure sustainability of tenancy

What is happening in Worcester?

The good news is that most if not all of these elements are in place in Worcester, and the City and provider and housing agencies are working together to make progress toward the goal of ending homelessness.

Shelters are a piece of the solution, especially when they are structured to rapidly lead to rehousing individuals and families. Providing outreach, Housing First, Rapid Rehousing services, wraparound support and case management are also important facets of efforts to end homelessness in Worcester.

And for those who have the most complex needs, there are several permanent supported housing projects on the drawing board – a tiny village community on Stafford Street, conversion of the Quality Inn at Oriol Drive and a supported housing project on Lewis St.

Worcester has most elements of a strong plan, willing collaborators, resources through ARPA funding and other sources, and the empathy and concern to care for all its citizens. That is a formula for long term, sustainable progress. Time will tell if it is enough to end homelessness once and for all.

Lorie C. Martiska is vice president of Advancement, Open Sky Community Services.

Open Sky is a behavioral health provider, with 1,200 employees in more than 100 programs throughout Central Massachusetts. Open Sky provides a number of services for people experiencing homelessness, including a temporary winter shelter, rapid rehousing, case management, permanent supported housing and outreach.