Worcester nixes sanctioned homeless camp

Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. on Monday ruled out any type of sanctioned camp for homeless people in the city, saying the issue “does not lend itself to one-size-fits-all solutions.”

The issue of a sanctioned homeless camp first surfaced last week at a city council committee hearing, where Dr. Matilde Castiel, Worcester’s health and human services commissioner, said she had been studying the concept. She said Worcester has about 80 identified homeless people who are scattered at more than 70 sites around the city. By congregating homeless individuals at one sanctioned camp, she said, it would be possible to make them more comfortable (showers and toilets could be offered, for example) and provide them with services more efficiently. She also said police could monitor the sanctioned site.

When Castiel’s comments were reported on Monday, Augustus quickly put an end to the discussion. He issued a statement saying chronic homelessness is a serious issue in Worcester and most major American cities. “It requires sustained attention, creative thinking, and frank discussion,” he said. “In having that discussion recently, the issue of a ‘sanctioned homeless camp’ was brought up. To be clear, the city of Worcester does not plan to establish any kind of homeless camp. We are not considering it, and I would not be in support of it.”

Sanctioned homeless camps have sprung up on the West Coast with mixed success. They are a recognition that the problem of homelessness is not going away, and needs to be addressed in a more comprehensive manner. In Massachusetts, a right-to-shelter state, the idea generally has less appeal.

Worcester isn’t the only Massachusetts city struggling with how to address homelessness. In Boston, the administration of Mayor Marty Walsh has been very aggressive in trying to get people off the streets and into shelters or permanent housing. But the strategy hasn’t always worked. Over the summer, an encampment sprouted on Boston Common near the Park Street T station. City officials poured resources into the area to help people find shelter, but the encampment continued to grow and attracted a criminal element. Boston police eventually moved the people out and they haven’t returned..



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