By Nahani Meuse
It has been 18 months since the Worcester City Council asked for a report on heating and cooling centers in Worcester. It has been SEVEN months since Worcester City Manager Eric Batista told the City Council that Worcester was just 60 days away from finalizing agreements on heating and cooling centers in our city. For the homeless, our seniors and most vulnerable.
And here we are, with still NO access to appropriate cooling or warming centers in the second largest city in New England, Worcester.
What is happening here? Where is the accountability? Where is the HUMANITY?
We have a rising homeless population being absolutely failed at every level. Loss of shower programs. Loss of detox and treatment beds. Loss of client-centered shelters. Homeless encampment sweeps. One year-round homeless shelter at capacity. No affordable housing options. New planned projects several years out.
Public housing waitlists pushing a decade or more. Dwindling housing subsidies. No cooling or heating centers. In two months we could be looking at near-freezing temperatures outdoors, and yet the City Manager has no plans for keeping people safe.
Dozens of homeless advocates and professionals continue to plead with the City for services – plead for funding and plead for adequate shelter beds.
Fundraisers have been held.
Properties have been visited, vetted and construction plans proposed.
Private funders have offered the capital. The benefit is clear, the data supports the model proposed, and yet the City Administration wants to focus on solely housing.
That sounds amazing, in theory; we would all prefer that everyone be housed versus staying in a shelter.
However, we know that is not realistic. The affordable housing stock does not exist here in Worcester! The affordable units planned are many years out! So where should the city’s unsheltered population live for the next 5 to 15 years while they await an affordable option?
Unsheltered folks are routinely offered “SRO” (single room occupancy) options that force them to live in congregate settings that are not well managed, theft runs rampant, and code violations make the unit uninhabitable.
When someone voices a legitimate complaint, they’re ignored. Many of these “rooming houses” log dozens of emergency calls every month. This is not a solution, these are trap houses that continue to victimize an already rampantly abused and overlooked population.
July 26 and July 27 the City allowed the Worcester Public Library on Salem Square and the Worcester Senior Center on Providence Street to offer space for cooling. Two whole days this entire summer that folks were offered a cooling option. That is shameful!
What about the 61-year-old woman sleeping unsheltered on Lincoln Street who couldn’t walk to the library or senior center? What about the severely asthmatic 34-year-old sleeping unsheltered at Bell Pond who couldn’t get to the library or the senior center? What about all the folks who “could” make it to the library but had to leave at 5 pm when it closed, although the sweltering temperatures would persist until sun down?
Does anyone care? What are we doing in Worcester if we don’t value human life and human decency?