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The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts

December 12, 2017 - Worcester Telegram & Gazette - Homelessness
Worcester city manager to ramp up efforts to combat chronic homelessness


To learn more about the Home Again project, click here.

By Brad Petrishen
Telegram & Gazette Staff

In 2011, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness declared Worcester the largest city in the country to have nearly eliminated chronic homelessness.

Six years later, city officials say the number of chronic homeless people is creeping back up, and City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. is reaching out to experts for help.

″(This issue is) not something you can let your guard down on, as we’ve painfully learned,” Mr. Augustus said Monday, pledging to put together a plan of action to combat the problem.

The city manager Monday invited reporters to his office after a private meeting that included Dennis P. Culhane, a nationally recognized expert on homelessness, and Joe Finn, president and executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.

Mr. Culhane, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania, since 2009 has served as director of research of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center on Homelessness among Veterans. He and Mr. Finn, along with Mr. Augustus and other city officials, met before the news conference to discuss chronic homelessness in the city.

A chronically homeless person is defined as someone who has been homeless for more than a year or has had four or more episodes of homelessness for three consecutive years. From 2007 to 2013, the city, bolstered by a $2.2 million grant from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, helped more than 100 chronically homeless people find permanent housing.

Rather than focusing on emergency sheltering, the program, called Home Again, centered on getting the chronically homeless places to live and providing them support services to help them retain housing.

Janice B. Yost, president of the Health Foundation, who attended Monday’s meeting, said unfortunately many of those services evaporated in recent years, leading to higher instances of homelessness in the city.

While solid figures are not available, Katherine Calano, the city’s homeless projects manager, said that the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance projects about 67 people are chronically homeless in Worcester County.

Mr. Augustus said he intends to create a plan to reduce that number. He said the city’s strategy of providing housing and wraparound services is unlikely to change, but that the city will need to learn from the past and ensure those assisted retain their services in the long run.

Ms. Yost said some people the city helped get insurance, for instance, ended up losing it. There is good news on that front, she said, in that MassHealth, the state’s insurance program, has negotiated a deal with the federal government that allows for case management services to be covered for the chronically homeless.

Ms. Yost said it was too soon to say whether her organization might once again offer the city a grant to combat the issue. She saluted Mr. Augustus for bringing Mr. Culhane to the table for input.

“We’re lucky to have him here,” she said of the professor.

Mr. Culhane told reporters that while addressing chronic homelessness is complicated, it’s encouraging that it’s been done in Worcester before.

“There’s a constant flow of people into homelessness,” he said, and the city recognizing and planning for that will be crucial.

Mr. Culhane, asked about panhandlers in the city, opined that many of those people are likely not homeless.

“Of the few studies that have been done, more than half of the people panhandling are doing it as a role,” he said, adding that most people who are homeless feel shame and do not try to advertise it.

Mr. Augustus has in the past requested that people refrain from giving money to panhandlers at city intersections.

“We’re not exactly convinced that everyone who is panhandling is in fact homeless,” he reiterated Monday.