Tag Archives: homeless shelter

A harsh winter = homeless emergency in Worcester

By Gordon T. Davis

There is a human rights emergency in Worcester.  Homeless people are suffering in the more than 600 hours of continuous temperatures below freezing. The Worcester City Council’s Committee on Public Health, chaired by Councillor Sarai Rivera, held hearings on the matter February 23.

The Triage Center for the homeless, located in the Piedmont neighborhood on Queen Street, has exceeded its capacity daily because of the extreme cold and snow.

The facility is licensed for 25 beds, but some nights more than 100 people spend the night there. This number is not representative of the number of people who need shelter, as many people do not meet the criteria of the Triage Center or choose to remain outdoors.  One person who attended the meeting, Paul, said that the staff of the Triage Center was sometimes confused about the requirements.

The number of people sheltering in the Triage Center has brought complaints from the Shepherd/King Street Neighborhood Association which was represented by former Worcester City Councillor Barbara Haller.  Haller and I have locked horns before on numerous issues, but in this case I think she is right despite her motives.  She said the Triage Center was never intended to shelter more than 100 people on a daily basis. Forty people were acceptable, albeit a number exceeding the Center’s license for 25 beds.  The old PIP Shelter had 37 residents when it closed its doors and was replaced by the Triage Center.

South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) runs the Triage Center on the campus of Community Healthlink, a part of UMass Hospital. The SMOC representative, Charles Gagnon, detailed the efforts it was making to reduce the “overflow” of people to the Triage Center. He said the goal was to develop a single point of entry for the people needing shelter; this is the vision developed by the Federal agency of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Through HUD, SMOC has 50 units of housing, 100 vouchers for housing and 15 housing slots.

SMOC said it was looking at a long-term solution of moving homeless people into housing.

Gagnon also said the harsh winter, the closure of the Long Island Center in Boston, and the periodic mercy patrols by the Worcester Police have a part to play in the overcrowding. Although he admitted he should have included the city administration/council and neighbors sooner in the discussion of the overcrowding, he felt, at the time, the extreme weather and demand on the Triage Center would subside.

Councillor Rivera said the system is broken. Mary Keefe, the district’s state representative,  said she was just learning of the issue.  Hopefully, Representative Keefe will come up with a strategy that the City of Worcester can take to the State.

Councillor Rivera is right in that the system is broken. There does not seem to be the political will to resolve the underlying causes that make people “homeless”:  an economic system in which we live from pay check to pay check, a devastated human services safety net, the health issues of the homelessness, and the prejudice against even the sight of the homeless and “panhandlers.”

Although not a surprise, it is a disappointment that more people, politicians and Worcester political candidates did not come to the hearing.

I suppose a human rights crisis does not matter, when the people in crisis cannot vote or contribute $$$ to a political campaign.

Blizzed Out!

By Ron O’Clair

Ground Zero Blizzard of 2013 – next to the P.I.P. homeless shelter on Charlton Street (Main South).

I’d like to share with you reader’s my experiences during the recent storm that hit us here in Worcester pretty damn hard. Living and working right beside the homeless shelter has been the bane of my existence for quite some time, since July of 1996 to be exact.

As many of you know I have been an active supporter and advocate of reclaiming the neighborhood around the shelter from the forces of depravity that have been trying to destroy it for many years. I have done everything in my power through the printed word to bring attention to the problems plaguing the neighborhood due to it being the area that the shelter continues, despite all promises to the contrary to provide lodging and sustenance to the City of Worcester homeless population.

At various times I have been for and against the shelter over these many years. I also have been the person directly responsible for the property that is adjacent to the shelter as the building superintendent of the commercial and residential building on the other side of Charlton Street from the shelter, since 16 June, 2003.

That responsibility is the prime reason that I became against the location of the shelter, rather than the ardent supporter I had once been. After all, there is a true need for a shelter of the type that personifies the PIP, and there are legitimate cases of people in need through no fault of their own for temporary assistance finding gainful employment and permanent housing due to various causes. Then there are the ones that use the shelter solely as a resource to continue to imbibe in illegal substances, or alcohol rather than to be responsible and pay for their own lodging. As long as they are going to get housing, they see no need to change their drug dependant habits, and continue being a drain on the economy funded by the taxpayers among us.

Part of my responsibilities as the building superintendent is snow removal, and I sure as hell had a job of it this time. I am responsible to remove the accumulated snow from not just this one, but three properties owned by the landlord who owns this building. It is an onerous task when there are only 3-6 inches, never mind the amounts we got during this blizzard of February 8-9th.

I am fortunate enough to have my own plow truck, and am able to plow the driveway for the tenants with it. The sidewalks have to be either shoveled or snow blown by City Ordnance within ten hours of the end of the storm. That is the property owner’s responsibility and through the deal that I have with Mr. Romero, it becomes my responsibility.
Normally I do all of the brunt work myself, with the end result being a very sore back, and a desire never to have to do it again. Sometimes I will hire out for labor to help with the shoveling while I tend to the plowing duties or get one of my friends to help out.

This time I hired two people, Michael P., one of my tenants, and a guy named Joseph who approached me as I was loading up the truck to head out to take care of the other two properties, Oread, and Greenwood Streets.
Joseph happens to be a shelter resident who says he is from New Hampshire, and has Sicilian and Puerto Rican heritage. He said he was in need of money and was willing to shovel snow to earn some of it, so I settled with him for a fair wage and took him out on the jobs. Unlike the people that hold signs saying they will work for food, or hungry please help, this guy approached me in my hour of need with a bonifide request to lighten my load, and make himself some cash money for his efforts. It seemed like a win – win situation so I accepted his offer.

Sad to say, most of those that stand out there on the corners of various streets in our fair City with signs begging for money that say they will work for food in actuality are only interested in free handouts to buy alcohol or drugs, not food. If it is food they want, they eat at the Mustard Seed, the PIP, or the Salvation Army and spend all they connive out of unsuspecting motorists on crack cocaine or heroin.

I don’t know what Joseph intended to do with his money, but I do know that he earned it honestly and fairly. It was well worth it to me to save me from a terrific backache. This was one of few positive experiences that I have had from a shelter resident. Most other encounters are from those that continually trespass onto the private property to hide in the shadows and shoot up, or smoke crack cocaine, and litter up the property with all manner of trash they leave behind that it ends up being my responsibility to clean up.

Most of the neighborhood residents and business owner’s are fed up with the lawlessness that has been allowed to continue for far too long. It is the same people doing the same criminal activity day after day without pause. We see these people, know who they are, and call the police to report them breaking the law, yet nothing ever happens to them, and they are out there the next day, business as usual.

I found myself in quite a bind due to the amount of snow that had accumulated rapidly in front of the building from the storm before I got out there to deal with it. I should have gotten out there a couple of hours sooner. The entire front of the building had drifted over with snow that was at least as high as my waist, and in some spots higher. There was no way I could remove that amount of snow, even if I had a whole crew of Joseph’s to help me. I could not plow it off as I like to do because the snow piled up faster than I had anticipated and it was too heavy for my GMC Sierra to push. In fact I got stuck in front of Multi-Services at 705 Main Street trying to clear the sidewalk in front of my property and the Emanuel Baptist Church as I like to do to be a good neighbor. Reverend Wright can testify that I have plowed or snow blown in front of his property many times in the past just to help out someone else for the satisfaction of doing for someone else without expecting anything in return.

It makes me feel good about myself when I help someone else. This was paid forward to me this storm when I found myself well and truly flucked by the amount of snow remaining on the sidewalks in front of the property. I was desperate for a solution to my problem when I noticed that Spellane Auto Body on Wellington Street was using a Bobcat to remove the mounds of snow obstructing their sidewalks. I thought to myself, this is what is needed to do the job, and I inquired of the driver if he would do in front of my building and how much it would cost if he did.

Well, he was only an employee and directed me to see the owner of the Auto Body who was on Murray Avenue engaged in a conversation with two DPW workers in a City truck. I went up to his window, and asked Bill Spellane if I could hire out the Bobcat, and how much would it cost to do the front of my building which used to house Berger’s Army & Navy.

Bill knew exactly which property it was when I mentioned Paul Berger’s old business which was here for many a year before Paul retired and moved to Florida after selling the building to Julio Romero in March of 2003. Bill and I had a wonderful talk concerning the neighborhood, and being in the environs of the PIP all these years. I told him how Julio worked in the Boston Hotel Industry and drove tractor trailer truck to save enough money to put the down payment on the property, and how he was a native of El Salvador before becoming an American citizen. I also told him how Julio was dismayed to find the building overrun with crack heads, junkies and prostitutes when he took possession. It was so bad back in early 2003 before I took over the management duties that the City of Worcester was taking steps to take the property like they did to the owner of 5 Sycamore Street due to that property being a hotbed of illegal activity.

Poor Julio spent his life savings buying the property, and found himself about to lose it all due to it being a revolving door crack house because of certain of the tenants that Paul Berger had rented too. Julio had nothing to do with filling the place with deadbeats; it was full enough when he bought the place.

Oh the stories I could tell of the battle to reclaim this building if I only could find the time and the space to write them. I had planned a book entitled “A room at Berger’s” but never got around to writing it. I took a stand because this was my home, I had been here since July 1996, and my sainted dear departed mother had once worked at the Spanish Grille Restaurant when I was a boy. I felt duty bound to preserve the building in my mother’s memory.

Well, anyway, this tale is getting too long, I wanted to thank Mr. Bill Spellane for his extending a helping hand to a neighbor in distress, and for having the graciousness to do it out of his heart, and not for any money that I might have paid to him, I thank you Bill, and after speaking to Julio, He thanks you also.

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Homeless children in the Worcester Public Schools …Ten percent of the student population

By John Monfredo, Worcester Public School Committee member

“I just can’t concentrate, and I worry about what the next day will bring, for living with two other families is very difficult.” … “I’m scared and afraid to tell anyone about my situation.”

These are statements from children who are homeless in Worcester and they are among the 2,400 students who worry about what is going to happen to them. These students represent 10 percent of the Worcester Public School population. The public only sees the buses rolling and sees the 44 schools in our public school system operating, but few can understand the changes that have taken place in our schools. Like all urban cities in this nation, we in Worcester have homeless children in our schools and it impacts their education!

One counselor told me about a student who received A’s and then unexpectedly his marks dropped. She finally was able to find out that this high school student was now living in a homeless shelter.

People living in poverty are most at risk of becoming homeless. In our city 71.8% of our students live under the poverty line.

Children experiencing homelessness face many barriers to education. Looking at the data, one sees a high absence rate, lots of moving from place to place, and poor health and nutrition. Again, according to the data, homeless children are likely to be ill four times more often than other children, with four times as many respiratory infections, and they are four times more likely to have asthma attacks. Unfortunately, homeless children go hungry twice as often as other children.
Unless you have your head in the sand, you realize that poverty has a major impact on academic progress. This is not given as an excuse but as a fact. Just think about it. Can you function if you’re hungry and have a tooth ache or are worrying about where you’re sleeping tonight?

Looking at the data on MCAS scores in grade three to twelve one sees that homeless children have a much higher percentage in the area of needs improvement and failing. Here is an example: In grade eight, the percentage of homeless children receiving a warning on their English Language Arts test was 23.2% with non-homeless children only 9.6%. In math, homeless children had a warning rate of 56.8% as compared to 34.0% of non homeless students.
Nevertheless, there are resilient students among the homeless and they are able to persevere for we do see students in the advanced and proficient range -but not many. So when looking at the scores of a district one needs to keep in mind the over-all circumstances of that district.

Another reason for those low test scores is the high absentee rate from kindergarten through high school for those children labeled as homeless. Common sense would tell you that it would be higher due to health issues, psychology issues, and hunger. Many of these children are bright but their physical needs have hindered their progress. Homeless youths are one of the most marginalized and victimized populations in schools. They experience more daily stressors and are more vulnerable to victimization than housed youth. Youth who are homeless have sustained higher rates of physical and sexual abuse prior to becoming homeless than the general population, and they are at continued risk for being physically assaulted and exposed to sexual exploitation. Similarly, rates of substance use, family violence, health issues and suicide are higher in this population.

These children live in shelters, doubling up (sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, and economic hardship), with some living in cars, parks, and many others awaiting foster care. There are many causes of homelessness for the economic downturn has forced more families into poverty thus jeopardizing children’s educational success. Other causes of homelessness according to the National Coalition for the Homeless are shortage of affordable housing, decline in public assistance, domestic violence and poverty. In addition, most people live a paycheck or two from having no money for a roof over their heads.

Congress attempted to assist homeless children in the 1980’s. In late 1986, legislation containing Title I of the Homeless Persons’ Survival Act was introduced as the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act. After an intensive advocacy campaign, large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress passed the legislation in 1987. After the death of its chief Republican sponsor, Representative Stewart B. McKinney of Connecticut, the act was renamed the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Then in 2000 President William Clinton renamed the legislation the National Coalition for the Homeless and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act after the death of Representative Bruce Vento, a
leading supporter of the act since its original passage in 1987.

The goal of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act is to ensure that each homeless child or youth is able to benefit from their educational program in spite of the challenges of their living situation. In an attempt to stabilize the child’s education and cut back on the mobility issue transportation is provide to children if they have had to move to a shelter or another setting. The child may continue to go to the same school.

As the Worcester Public Schools flyer states, “To the extent as practical and as required by law, the district will work with homeless families to provide stability in school attendance and other needed services.” The one flaw in this act is that it is an unfunded mandate. The Worcester Public Schools pays out of their budget over $400,000 to transport homeless students but does receive $60,000 in grant money that pays for head start home visits…staff outreach and case management, student materials such as first aid classes and emergency supplies for families, some school vacation programs, administrative support, and professional development training for teachers. I believe that Congress needs to do more!

In Worcester, Judy Thompson who wears many hats in the Worcester Public Schools (Coordinator of Counseling, Psychology and Community Outreach Services) is the liaison person for homeless programs for our students. The Worcester Public Schools, under Mrs. Thompson’s direction, attempts to educate staff about the homeless including the following: Reminding staff that the start of a new school can be stressful and intimidating for students, emphasizing the importance of establishing rapport with the students to let them know that the school is there for assistance, informing students of school programs and extracurricular activities that the students may be interested in participating in, have clothing and school supplies available to provide for students as needed, coordinating with the liaison and other administrators to facilitate access to programs, activities and transportation, be supportive and encouraging the students to do well, encouraging parental involvement even while families are in a shelter, and having a mentor for shelter/foster children who are entering a new school so that they can adjust to their new environment. These are just a few of the suggestions given to schools as they attempt to do all that they can for students in need.

A city defines itself in the way we assist those in need of service. Therefore, we need to consider other ways of assisting our children, such as establishing a center coordinated by United Way and the Worcester Public Schools. This way the public could donate supplies such as clothing, soap and other toiletry items. Most importantly, we need to find mentors for those children so that they know they are not alone. If any of our readers have other ideas write to the InCity Times with your thoughts. Let’s not just talk about this situation – let’s do something about it! Let’s do it for the children.

The “Prostitution” meeting, the PIP, crack cocaine and so much more

By Ron O’Clair

I attended the “Prostitution” meeting held at the board room of the Community Development Corporation Headquarters located at 875 Main Street, which was quite well attended by community activists like me, and just plain old ordinary citizens who are fed up with the everyday bullshit that comes along with the associated crimes that prostitution helps support.

Since that time, returning to what I refer to as: “ground zero”, the property that I manage located right next door to the venerable P.I.P. Shelter, and armed with a new resolve not to let the insanity continue unabated, I had the good fortune to be renovating a vacancy that sits smack dab on top of the action outside the window, and due to my penchant to work unorthodox hours continuing throughout the night, I was able to see and hear what my tenants have to endure every single night without fail.

The tenant that we finally got shed of was involved in lots of the goings on outside the windows, and sad to say had contributed to my building being perceived as a place to go to use and abuse drugs. Even though I have a “No visitor policy” in effect to prevent just such a thing. I found several cut baggie corners and a whole lot of cut knots, that indicate that lots of crack cocaine was smoked in that room. The tenant always professed to be in recovery, and not doing that anymore, but the evidence tells the tale better than anything else. Not to mention the two used glass crack pipes that I found while cleaning out the room Continue reading The “Prostitution” meeting, the PIP, crack cocaine and so much more