WORCESTER – A family shelter program is being placed in the former convent building on the grounds of St. Stephen’s parish and elementary school.
A group of St. Stephen’s parents shared their concerns with ThisWeekinWorcester.com [TWIW] — with the main concerns being the proximity of the shelter from the school and the perceived lack of communication from the school and the organizations in charge.
The building is located at 4 Caroline St. — just around the corner and behind the church and school located on Grafton St. — and the program will be run by the Catholic Charities of Worcester.
The 12-bedroom program being placed in the former convent is the Youville House Family Program — a transitional service for homeless families who have no place else to go — which is currently located on Granite Street in Worcester, across from Holy Name high school and next to the Guild of St. Agnes Child Care Agency.
The program is expected to open before the end of the year at its new location.
A large group of parents with children who attend St. Stephen’s school reached out to TWIW collectively earlier this week on the condition of anonymity to express their concerns.
“My family and I were taken aback at how this was all done without any prior notification. No meetings. No letter until just this last week. St Stephen’s says they promote a sense of community amongst the families that attend the school. I don’t feel these actions were inclusive of that value,” a parent told TWIW. “As a parent, safety is a top priority for their child at any school. By not informing the families of these actions, I feel as though the Diocese and the school took away my involvement in decisions that affect my child’s safety.”
“I had noticed some work being done on the building directly next to my child’s school — which has been vacant for quite some time. Out of curiosity of seeing the work being done, I inquired and was informed there was a shelter that was going to be placed there,” another parent said. “I was truly astounded at the news of this. As a parent whose child attends this school, I was not informed by the school, nor the diocese this was going to be the plan.”
“While I understand and am sympathetic to the need of a shelter being in place to accommodate those who are less fortunate, as some fall on hard times, a different location should have been considered,” she added.
In regards to the school letting the parent know about the shelter program moving next door, in an email to TWIW on May 23, Principal Joanne Mallozzi said, “St. Stephen School sent an initial letter to parents with information pertaining to Catholic Charities at 4 Caroline St. There will be another memo/letter going home in the near future to parents with further information from Mr. Tim McMahon of Catholic Charities.”
The letter Mallozzi refers to in her statement was sent earlier this week on Monday, May 20.
In that letter, Mallozzi said, “At this point, Catholic Charities has begun inside and outside renovations of the property. We remain very diligent with the safety and security of all of our students while renovations proceed. Catholic Charities are working to make this a smooth transition for all.”
In a statement released to TWIW on Thursday, May 23, Tim McMahon, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, said “We have worked diligently and will continue to do so, always putting in the forefront of our thinking, the security and safety of the students at St. Stephen’s and the community at large. We look forward to continuing our mission of providing hope to the many families in need by providing an emergency family shelter here in Worcester.”
“Since our inception, we have been very good neighbors to those around us,” he said.
One of the primary concerns of the parents is a staircase that leads from the west side of 4 Caroline St. onto school grounds near the entrances to the school’s preschool program.
“I don’t think the danger and consequences were properly thought through. What if there is an incident involving those in the shelter with drugs or violence? My child is now feet away from this building. I hope that the school does the right thing and allow the parents an open forum before the end of the school year to discuss this honestly and openly,” a parent of a preschooler said.
According to McMahon, the process to purchase the building and start the program in the former convent space took place “a while ago.”
Catholic Charities purchased the nearly 17,000 sq foot building in early April 2019 for $235,000 from the Worcester Dioceses. The building was one property among a collection of properties owned by the Dioceses at 359 Grafton St. that included St. Stephen’s church and school, a rectory and another building at 20 Hamilton St. that is now the church offices, but up until recently had been used as a thrift shoppe.
“Catholic Charities staff began talking to Father LaBaire at St Stephen’s about the possible purchase of the former and now vacant convent located at 4 Caroline Street, and moving our transitional housing program to that location from our Granite Street address. One of the first steps we took was to invite various stakeholders… We all agreed that with the convent being vacant, knowing the mission of the sisters [formerly] residing there, as well as our overall mission as Catholics that relocating our safe and secure housing program from Granite Street to Caroline Street was something we were all excited about,” McMahon stated.
The program will include a child’s playtime program sponsored by Horizons for Homeless Children , The purpose of the program is a temporary residence for families who will work with the Catholic Charities staff to find safe, affordable housing. Families in the program are provided with parenting support groups, housing search, training and job search, and budgeting and financial literacy sessions.
McMahon said, “Our twelve-bedroom facility has a set of policies and regulations in place to ensure the safety and well- being of our community such as a minimum of two fully trained staff on site twenty-four hours a day and an on-call administrator on duty 365 days a year.”
One parent expressed hope that the community would at least get to express their concerns to the school and Catholic Charities within the next few weeks.
“I hope that the school does the right thing and allow the parents an open forum before the end of the school year to discuss this honestly and openly,” she said.
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