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It takes a Village; Shelter has helped hundreds over 10 years.

Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush

WORCESTER -- Caridad Millian is unemployed and in need of a home to call her own.

Still, she believes that a bright future is in store for her.

Over the past five months, the 26-year-old and her children -- Robert, 9, Carlos, 7, and Lianis, 5 -- have found shelter at the The Village at Cambridge Street, a former school complex that provides homeless families with a temporary place to live.

While staying at the Village, Ms. Millian has been in a retraining program and she soon hopes to find a job in the health care field, possibly as a nurse assistant.

"Thanks to this help, things are looking very good,'' said Ms. Millian, a Leominster native who learned about the Village from her mother.

The Millian household is one of hundreds that have benefited from the 10-year-old program offered in South Worcester and funded by the state.

Since opening at 4 McKeon Road and 510 Cambridge St., the Village has served 844 families, including 2,000 children. Depending on the size of the family, the Village has between 45 and 52 units available.

Of the families served, 452 families (54 percent) have found permanent, affordable housing and another 233 families (28 percent) were placed in transitional programs or other similar programs.

Besides providing living quarters, the program has helped clients with job training, child care and educational opportunities.

The project celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, but the Village's story dates back to 2001, when the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance became the lead agency for homeless families placed in shelters or motels.

That year, areas shelters were filled to capacity and five households had to be accommodated in motels.

With the lingering downturn in the economy, the number of families seeking a roof over their heads continued to grow.

So much so, that, in 2004, 50 homeless households found themselves living in hotel rooms.

CMHA officials felt that there was a need to provide a better and more stable environment for people down on their luck.

"Something just had to be done,'' said Grace K. Carmark, executive director of CMHA.

That opportunity came about when the Cambridge Street and McKeon Road buildings, which at one time had provided private housing for students attending the nearby College of the Holy Cross, became available to rent.

"I'm thankful that this place became available to us,'' said Renee, 36, from Charlton, who has lived at the complex with her 5-year-old son, Cameron, over the past three months.

Renee said she needed help when she lost her job at a local Wal-Mart.

"This economy is really hurting a lot of people,'' said Renee, after picking up her son at a school bus stop on Cambridge Street.

The Village, which formerly housed the Cambridge Street Elementary School, opened its doors on Feb. 18, 2004, despite opposition from neighbors.

Some of them felt that the complex's residents would pose public safety problems for the South Worcester neighborhood. Others believed that there were already too many places catering to the homeless in the area.

Concerns were also raised about what impact the project would have on local schools, public safety staffing and traffic.

One opponent filed a lawsuit in Worcester Superior Court seeking a judicial review of the decision by the Worcester Zoning Board of Appeals not to require a special permit for the project.

Today, some neighbors said the fuss over the project 10 years ago had no merit.

Patricia Reardon, who at 16 McKeon Road, four houses away from the Village, said the neighbors, area churches and organizations such as the South Worcester Neighborhood Center welcomed and embraced the newcomers.

"This interaction is what makes a community a neighborhood,'' said Ms. Reardon.

She said the complex, which once served as a polling place and as temporary housing for U.S. Marines being deployed to fight in the Korean conflict, has always been maintained and that the surrounding area has not suffered as a result of the program.

Ms. Reardon said the Village actually benefited the neighborhood in many ways. For example, she said the Worcester Regional Transit Authority recognized the need for more service and extended bus routes to the area.

"Those of us who live in the shadows of the Cambridge Street School are no strangers to diversity,'' said Ms. Reardon.

Individuals and organizations who have supported the Village were recognized at a program held late last month.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Kush, Bronislaus B.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 12, 2014
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