Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Dec
  • 15

IHN buys a house for the homeless

Posted By December 15, 2011 | 12:22 pm | Lead Story #3

By Tanya Connor

In changing its approach to house homeless families at a “static site” instead of moving them from church to church, the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Worcester is fulfilling a long-time goal, Joanne Alley, director, told The Catholic Free Press this week.
October 25 IHN closed on a house at 91 June Street in Worcester, Mrs. Alley said. It is to house the families in transition whom IHN serves. She said IHN bought the house through its fiscal agent, Friendly House, which works for family betterment of Worcester residents. Friendly house will remain the fiscal agent until IHN is incorporated as a non-profit, she said.
IHN cannot begin using the June Street house until it is renovated, a process expected to take several months, Mrs. Alley said. In the meantime, IHN continues housing homeless families in facilities lent by faith communities, usually for a week or two at a time, she said.
IHN is in the midst of a capital campaign which to date has raised about $60,000 of the $300,000 needed to buy the house, she said. In addition, IHN received $50,000 from the sale of The Adams Square Congregational Church of Worcester, is anticipating a $32,000 grant from the Carpenter Foundation, and has applied for other grants, she said.
IHN gets a little federal money from the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, but takes no state funding and therefore can serve families who don’t qualify for state-funded shelters, Mrs. Alley said.
Housing these families in one place will be better for them, including the children, said Amy Walsh, an IHN co-coordinator for Blessed Sacrament Parish in Worcester. She said it will be better for the volunteers from a parish to go to a site off their church’s property than for the homeless families to pack up and leave the church each morning, and leave for another church each week or two.
When the families stay at Blessed Sacrament for a week in June and another week in September (when Blessed Sacrament doesn’t need its facilities for religious education classes), parishioners call them their guests, and volunteer to cook for them, help with homework, play with the children and stay overnight with them, Ms. Walsh said.
A van picks the families up at 6:45 a.m. daily and takes them to IHN’s Day Center at Wesley United Methodist Church on Main Street in Worcester, she said. They can stay there during the day and get transportation from there to school, work and other places.
Ms. Walsh and Mrs. Alley said two full-time staff members working at the Day Center help the families with needs such as budgeting, resume-writing and job-searches, and each family has an individualized service plan.
“They help the adults do what they need to do to get their families out of this situation,” Ms. Walsh said. When 91 June Street is ready for occupancy, the day center will move there too, she said.
Having one site will also be better for IHN, which has been losing formerly available sites as more and more congregations learn they don’t meet new fire codes, Mrs. Alley said. Some congregations don’t have the money or ability to get their building up to code for overnight accommodations, she said.
The Interfaith Hospitality Network was started in New Jersey in 1986, and now there are about 170 networks around the United States, some with static sites like 91 June Street, Mrs. Alley said. When the Greater Worcester one was started in 1997, the average stay of a family was 8-10 weeks, but now it is 4-6 months, she said.
She attributes this to a lack of affordable housing, including few Section 8  vouchers and too few subsidized housing complexes.
Ms. Walsh said Massachusetts is the fifth least affordable rental state in the nation. She said to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in the City of Worcester a person with a minimum wage job would need to work approximately 90 hours a week.
“We see a lot of working families, that cannot maintain their families in market-rate housing,” Mrs. Alley said. That includes other expenses in addition to rent.