Members of the Worcester community voiced concern after the zoning board approved the establishment of a modest residential area at the Zion Lutheran Church. The facility aims to create a place of refuge inside the church walls featuring six bedrooms.
Zoning Board's Approval
After its meeting on Monday, Jun 5, the Zoning Board of Appeals in Worcester, Massachusetts, granted special permits to allow a temporary family home to be housed in a church in the Greendale section of the city, despite screams from the general public. Mass Live reported that Worcester Community Housing Resources purchased the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church located at 39 and 41 Whitmarsh Ave. to lease the sanctuary space, social hall, and other areas back to the church while renovating the remaining complex into its offices, a small six-bedroom temporary family shelter, and upgrading its kitchen.
However, some residents in the neighborhood have voiced their opposition to establishing the facility. Throughout the past few weeks, they have voiced their worries about the potential impact the temporary shelter could have on the market value of their properties and the general safety of the community. Several community members have come together to support the facility, arguing that initiatives similar to it are required to assist in resolving the growing problem of homelessness in the city.
Community's Concern Over Church's Plan to Open Small Homeless Shelter
MSN reported that although the zoning board determined that the designs complied with zoning regulations and ultimately gave clearance during the hearing on Monday night, Jun 5, public opinion regarding the shelter was quite divisive and sometimes contentious. According to Jason Callahan, who lives close to the church, they raise their concerns because shelters tend to attract individuals with untreated mental illness. "And we're not saying don't have a shelter, we're saying move it downtown," he asserted.
Moreover, as per Spectrum News 1, Alan Kusy, who has lived in the area for a long time, is another resident who has expressed his disapproval of the zoning board's decision. He lives on Summerhill Avenue and feels the six-unit shelter will burden the community, adding that it will "affect our pocketbooks." Kesy also pointed out that "They Will Tell You 'Oh No, Your Property Values Will Go Up.'" Given the current circumstances, their properties may increase. But it is quite unlikely that they will increase by as much as everyone else's.
On the other hand, Trish Appert, the Friendly House's executive director, recognized that many individuals still need to be more comfortable with the notion. Nevertheless, she said a few neighbors approached her at a recent community gathering to tell her they had altered their minds and supported the initiative. She intends to carry on those discussions with the locals despite the fact that the shelter has been given the go-ahead at this point.
Furthermore, the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Andrew Borden, has come under fire from congregation members, such as Kusy, who believe that he is "running the church like a business." At the zoning board meeting, several attendees expressed sentiments comparable to his, but the Reverend Aaron Payson of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester backed him. In addition, the shelter is scheduled to reopen in 2024 once the necessary improvements have been completed. People living in Worcester reportedly can challenge the verdict.