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Police Remove Protest Encampment in Downtown Worcester

By Tom Marino | January 11, 2024
Last Updated: January 11, 2024

WORCESTER – A protest by homeless individuals and advocates led to the arrest of three on Wednesday outside the 60-bed emergency shelter at the former Registry of Motor Vehicles location at 611 Main St.

Demonstrators set up tents in the parking lot of the shelter on Tuesday night, saying they would not leave until there was a change in shelter policies.

Complaints against the shelter include the lack of accommodations for women. Just 15 of 60 beds are available to women.

Demonstrators also say that since opened by the City of Worcester on December 12, the shelter has declined to admit people while beds remained open. They say the shelter operates through a complex application, waiting list, and lottery system for admittance, rather than a first-come first-served basis. The South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC), which operates the shelter, disputes those claims.

The group who organized the protest, Project Priceless, says that at least 30 of their members, primarily homeless women escaping sex trafficking, were denied access to the shelter despite waiting in line every single day since it opened. Many of the women were previous residents of Harbor. a shelter by Living in Freedom Together (LIFT), that closed in September due to a lack of funding. Harbor reportedly provided services to 120 women annually. LIFT is a nonprofit organization committed to ending the sex trade.

Others say the shelter has engaged in discriminatory practices against women and the LGBT community. “They told me since I was transgender that if they let me in they would have had to make a special section just for me,” said Jennifer Baez, a homeless woman. “They said they can’t let me in either the women’s section or the men’s section because I’m not either and since they don’t have the time to make a whole new section, I got turned away.”

Police notified protestors at around 3:30 PM on Wednesday that they must remove their tents from the parking lot by 4 PM or face arrest. Additional police began arriving at the scene shortly after 4:30 PM.

At around the same time, City Manager Eric Batista ordered the shelter to increase capacity from 60 to 85 people. Shelter staff agreed to guarantee those camped outside a bed for the night if they disassembled the encampment. When asked if participants in the protest would have beds the following night, shelter staff declined to give assurances. All participants in the demonstration declined the offer.

Worcester police began moving in to make arrests and disassemble the encampment at around 5 PM. Charges include trespassing, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on a police officer.

After clearing the encampment, police allowed some to retrieve their belongings. Work crews later arrived to dispose of the remaining tents and supplies.

January 11, 2024

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