New England

Study: Worcester Has 5th Highest Percentage of Homeless Students

The city of Worcester has begun to welcome a boom in economic development, but it comes with some drawbacks.

"A Worcester renaissance is not creating affordable housing," homelessness advocate and former juvenile court judge Luis Perez said.

A lack of affordable housing means a surge in homelessness.

In fact, a new study by the River Oaks Treatment Center in Tampa, Florida, has found Worcester has the highest percentage of homeless students in New England, and the fifth highest in the entire country. The city has about 3,400 homeless students.

"In the population of 25,000 students, that's an enormous amount of people, young people, that are homeless. And that's going to affect your education," Perez said.

While Worcester Public Schools say their numbers aren't quite that high, they say they are making tremendous efforts to try to help students who may lack permanent housing by offering health centers, food pantries and laundry services in some of their schools.

"We want to wrap services around our students so they feel secure, they feel safe and they feel that adults care for them," Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda said.

Recent surges in the local homeless population are complicating efforts beyond just the public school system.

"After the Hurricane Maria, there was a significant wave of people that came from Puerto Rico seeking housing," CENTRO President and CEO Juan Gomez said.

And while most people were able to find temporary housing, community service groups like CENTRO are working on plans to create new affordable permanent housing using funding from local philanthropic groups.

"To either acquire or develop 40 to 42 units of housing, what we're proposing in this plan will include approximately 17 new units of housing currently not available," Gomez said.

CENTRO plans to bring its proposal to funding sources later this week.

It also has a three year plan where it would create a total of 80 new units of affordable housing.

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