Editorial: Steps that add up to Worcester housing victories

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A dose of reality — times two — will be on the minds of many as they hit the West Side today for the 31st annual Walk for the Homeless.

The first dose is simply the reminder of a stubborn homelessness problem no one would wish on anyone. The 3.1-mile walk, organized by the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance (CMHA), sets out from Elm Park at 2 p.m.

cmha-logoSecond, this year’s event comes on the heels of headlines about a property in a less-pretty section of the city. The Albion lodging house, 765 Main St., on Thursday had Main South neighbors imploring its potential new owners to use it for market-rate housing.

What the prospective owners had in mind was to fix up the blighted building and make it into an emergency shelter for families. The Albion, across the street from the downtown YMCA, is one shaky step up from a shelter as it is.

It’s a 68-bedroom rooming house that’s hovered close to receivership in the recent past. The five-story, red-brick structure at Main and Jackson, a nice hotel in decades gone by, is also an eyesore slapped with numerous code violations over the years and a familiar address to police.

David Myers, a Framingham-based property manager and real estate investor, did not perhaps hear what he hoped to at Thursday’s meeting of the Shepard King Neighborhood Association. He and a New York-based partner, Ronald Swartz, aim to buy the property, which was put on the market in February for $1.1 million.

Myers, however, heard what makes sense.

Residents let him know the city has enough shelter space for families. Indeed, officials told the Sun for an October story that the number of homeless families needing to be put up in hotels or motels in our city was zero. That extraordinary accomplishment traced to a great deal of work and coordination by officials, social service agencies, and fundraising successes such as today’s 31st annual CMHA walk.

In comment after comment, Myers also heard what we would call hope. The Main South neighborhood, long the location of social-service solutions (notably the former People In Peril shelter, and the South Middlesex Opportunity Center’s triage center on Queen Street), is tired of being a “dumping area,” in the description of one resident.

She and other neighbors believe the Albion is ready to take a step up from rooming house to apartment building.

The prospective owners have run the numbers and said that plan is not feasible. What they are proposing is to lease the entire building to a social service agency. In addition, they would reduce the number of units to accommodate a full range of wraparound services for the agency’s clients.

We hope Myers and Swartz sign that purchase-and-sale agreement, and trust that the building and neighborhood will be better for their stewardship. Surely there is another Main South parcel ripe for a state-of-the-art, inclusive and affordable apartment complex.

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 54]:
Is Worcester developing a complex?


As for today’s Walk for the Homeless, get out there if you can, Worcester, and walk or cheer — or make an online donation to the cause.

Just as losing the roof over one’s head occurs in numerous ways, how to climb out of homelessness, or steer individuals and families away from that cliff, is a complex question. But homelessness is a surmountable social ill.

In the last decade or so, Worcester has doubled down on the issue with a multifaceted approach and strong initiatives, including Housing First and the Quality of Life Task Force.

Overall, the methods have paid off. Although shelters still go into overflow, the city has four or five dozen individuals deemed chronically homeless, and the risk of temporary homelessness is ever-present for many, Worcester is making progress.

Longtime residents can see the results in the streets. Over the years, concerted efforts to address the heartbreaking problem of homelessness have done well — not perfectly, but encouragingly.

Today’s walk is, in part, a celebration. It has become a large, well-rooted community effort supported by numerous businesses and organizations, and hundreds of participants.

According to Grace K. Carmark, executive director of the CMHA, the event raises about $145,000 every year in cash and in-kind donations. Last year, the CMHA and its partners provided shelter to 213 families, she said.

Over its 31 years, the walk has directly helped more than 100,000 people. Determination, organization and money have, in short, helped us be more human to one another.

Step by step, and Albion by Albion, we can keep roofs over heads, homelessness at bay, and the city a better place for everyone.

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