Worcester vacant building being converted into housing for homeless

WORCESTER, Mass. — Worcester's growth has been a positive for the Commonwealth but there is a downside, rising rents are making it harder for those who struggle to afford housing, some of whom fall into homelessness.

Catholic Charities of Worcester County purchased St. Stephens Convent, a 95-year-old former convent from the archdiocese a year ago and has been working to get it up to code. It boasts larger bedrooms, a full community room, a bigger kitchen — double the size of the current Granite Street site.

It may be a relic from 1924, but it's a new space for Elsie Toledo and her son Januel.

"I'm glad they're opening this new place, I think it's a great opportunity for families," said Toledo.

Elsie and Januel will be moving into the Caroline Street building when it's finished, a reprieve in what's been a tough time for their family.

"I've been homeless for two years. I've been with family members, jumping around," she said.

Stories like Elsie's have become more common in Worcester, says Catholic Charities' Maydee Morales, a symptom of the city's growth that has some "priced out" of formerly affordable housing.

>> Priced Out: Push to make Mass. more affordable for young professionals

"Where apartments were in the $800s and the $900s, now they can be as high as $1,800 a month and for families with limited income, it's really hard for them to afford that," said Morales.

This will be a temporary home, Elsie says, as she seeks stable housing, but it's not just a roof. Classes will be offered in the chapel, training that may get her to her career goal of becoming a nurse assistant.

"They have classes and that's good because they have CNA, and I always wanted to do CNA, it's exciting," said Toledo.

The plan is to have the 17 families welcomed in within the next few weeks.

While Catholic Charities and other community agencies try to get families off the streets, city leaders are working on outreach, getting mental health, and substance abuse counselors to the chronically homeless.

"We've noted that there is 103 chronic homeless, our goal is to get these people housing first and to get them into housing," said Commissioner Matilde Castiel, Health and Human Services.

There are also approximately 3,300 young people considered homeless, according to the city, another segment Commissioner Castiel says they're trying to help.