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Programs fight homlessness

Posted By March 18, 2013 | 4:05 pm | Local
oanne Alley, director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, at 91 June St.
oanne Alley, director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, at 91 June St.

Catholic Charities works to stabilize families

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

WORCESTER – The sagging economy has created a lot of unemployment and underemployment. This, in turn, has led to increased homelessness.
Cynthia Taberner of Catholic Charities tries to keep people in their homes through the Emergency Stabilization Services/Homeless Prevention program.
If someone is late on rent, for instance, she’ll direct them to various rental assistance programs. Help is also available for those who can’t pay for heat.
“We suggest to people they get help through various places,” she said, explaining that some utility providers offer forgiveness programs during a difficult stretch.
Food pantries around the diocese also serve an ever-growing number of families and individuals.
“We look for all the various resources around,” she explained. “It is a joint effort to try to stabilize people.”
Even more importantly, Mrs. Taberner noted, is finding the reason why someone is homeless and working to address that.
“We look for the root cause,” she said. “I think it is really important to look for those root causes.”
“Each individual is definitely unique,” she added.
Mrs. Taberner realizes some people are not poor enough to qualify for government assistance, but still don’t have enough money to pay their bills.
“If you’re like right over the line it’s tough,” she acknowledged.
Sometimes eviction can be averted by negotiating with the landlord to work out a payment plan.
“Once they’re homeless it’s tough,” she stated.
Adults with no dependent children under the age of 18 have few choices, other than the Catholic Worker House or Abby’s House, both in Worcester. Mrs. Taberner noted they are good options, except “they’re always busy and they’re always full.”
All of these circumstances, she said, underscore the need for prevention. And having shelter is very much tied to employment.
In previous years, Mrs. Taberner said, people could cobble together a living with multiple jobs. But now, that’s even becoming difficult as the firms that employ them struggle.
“My hours have been cut significantly and I can’t pay my bills,” is something she hears often.
“A lot of benefits have been cut,” Mrs. Taberner explained. “It’s a community problem and it’s a national problem,” she added, noting the scope of unemployment and underemployment.
Although programs such as fuel assistance help with heat, the amount people receive is less than it used to be, according to Mrs Taberner.
The problem of homelessness has also spread from the inner-city to wealthier neighborhoods and to the suburbs too. They’re quieter there because people know everybody and they (people struggling to pay their bills) don’t want people to know their difficulties,” Mrs. Taberner said.
“I work in the Worcester office,” she said. “Surprisingly in the suburbs there’s a lot that goes on that people are unaware of.”
She said laid off professionals are as hard hit as any other group. “Many of these folks never realized they’d be in the position they’re in and they honestly don’t know how to go about getting help,” she stated.
The elderly also grapple with rising prices and a harsh economy. Ms. Taberner noted Section 8 subsidized housing is in short supply, with long waiting lists.
Although she tells people to pay for housing first, since the main priority is keeping a roof over your head, this isn’t always possible. If someone depends on their car for transportation to and from work, paying for car repairs may cut into money put aside for rent.
Homelessness, unfortunately, is a problem that’s on the upswing “Really since the economy took a nose dive,” said Mrs. Taberner.
Yet there’s another, more encouraging trend, she’s noticed as well. When times are hard, people with more resources rally to help their neighbors.


Emergency food for pets too

WORCESTER – An elderly woman needed food. She particularly wanted tuna fish. She was almost desperate in her quest for cans of tuna.
Cynthia Taberner, coordinator of the Emergency Stabilization Services/Homeless Prevention program at Catholic Charities realized the tuna probably wasn’t for her.
“Is this for your cat?” she asked.
Another client lost his business. He was crying because he had nothing to feed his 17-year-old dog.
Cases like this convinced her to start a small pet food pantry at the Catholic Charities office in Worcester, so people don’t have to choose between feeding themselves or their pet.
She welcomes donations of both dry and canned cat or dog food. You can reach her by calling Catholic Charities at 508-860-2206 or 508-798-0191.

Interfaith Hospitality Network makes house a home

By Mairgread Gray
CFP Correspondent

WORCESTER – “You don’t see that stress on their faces anymore,” Joanne Alley, director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, said of the families who used to have to move from location to location every few weeks. Now when they come to the network for shelter they are in one location – on June Street.  The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Worcester made 91 June St. its permanent home in November.
The home can accommodate six families at any one time.  It is a shelter for those who do not qualify for state programs and for those who have no other options.
Having one place to live, and not having to move from church to church is a blessed relief for these families, Ms. Alley said.
Before this home was purchased, churches would host the families for one or two-week periods. Ms. Alley noted that 28 churches and synagogues participated and included Congregational, Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Unitarian, Catholic and Jewish faith communities. The host church would open its parish hall to the families. Parishioners would cook for the families and tend to their needs. Participating congregations were  located in Auburn, Grafton, Holden, Princeton, Shrewsbury, Sterling, Upton, Westborough, West Boylston and Worcester, according to the network’s website,
New state safety regulations and stricter guidelines made it harder and harder for congregations to participate.
“We started losing congregations since towns are required to follow state regulations,” Ms. Alley said. So, the Interfaith Hospitality Network began looking for a permanent home.
“It was easier to get one building up to code than to have 20 or 30 churches having to get up to code,” she said.
The network was down to 23 sites from a high of 30.
“The congregations are coming back – it is wonderful,” Ms. Alley said.
She said the families love it on June Street.  It is a more stable environment for them.  They are not moving from church to church.
The congregations, too, are very happy and pleased about how easy it is to “host” the families in the new home.
Friendly House is the fiscal agent for Interfaith Hospitality Network, and had someone working to get a house.  The June Street house had belonged to a couple who attended Blessed Sacrament Church. When they died, their children were thrilled to have the house go to the Hospitality Network, Ms. Alley said.
Each family who gets help from the network has a service plan and is required to work toward goals.  They must save 75 percent of their income; pay off any past-due utility bills; look for housing and employment; or enroll in school.  As long as they are saving money, and achieving goals, they may stay as long as needed, Ms Alley explained.
“If they are not willing to work on goals, there is not much we can do.  We’re willing to help anyone – they have to be willing to help themselves,” Ms. Alley said.
She noted that when the churches hosted families, only four or five families could be accommodated, or as many as 14 people who could fit in the large van used to transport them from church to church. The new home on June Street allows as many as six families.
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in West Boylston is one of the Catholic parishes in the program. Terri King, secretary and administrative assistant  there and her husband David have been hosts for the Interfaith Hospitality Network for the past six years.  She said her church would host families three times a year, and that Father Kenneth Cardinale, the former pastor, was instrumental in getting people involved.
Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioners hosted at the new June Street house for the first time in December.
“There is a learning curve to go there. We’re used to doing it in the parish hall,” Mrs. King said.  She said many parishioners “stepped up to the plate” by donating clothes, toys, and gift cards for the adults for Christmas.
Before moving to June Street, the Interfaith Hospitality Network headquarters was at the Wesley Methodist Church. According to its website, the network has helped 295 families since its formation in 1997.