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August 23, 2019 Central Mass. HEALTH - Fall 2019

Abby's House renovation expands services for women and children

Photo | Grant Welker Stephanie Page, executive director of Abby’s House in Worcester

In 2001, Abby’s House got a big break in its mission to help homeless women and children: Sisters of Mercy offered to sell for $1 its four-story building on High Street in downtown Worcester. The building would give Abby’s House room to house dozens of women. But renovating the space for more modern use wouldn’t be so easy. After years of stop-and-start progress, Abby’s House completed a $16-million renovation this year under the direction of Executive Director Stephanie Page. Page, who has been in social services for more than 25 years, joined Abby’s House five years ago from Mount Wachusett Community College, where she taught sociology with a focus on inequality, gender and families. Abby’s House serves more than 500 women and children each year, with 79 units of affordable housing and nine overnight shelter beds.

How much does the renovation and expansion of services allow Abby’s House to keep up with demand?

It is now better equipped to address the ever-changing needs of women facing homelessness today and in the years to come. We added an elevator to make it ADA-compliant, and added a kitchen, laundry and common room to each residential floor for the first time. This home is now able to serve a wider population of women and is safer and more secure than ever.

How much of a problem is running out of capacity?

If our shelter or housing is at capacity, we do have other partners in the city we can refer women to, but there needs to be more options. The demand for safe and affordable housing is great throughout the city. If a woman is working a minimum wage job at $12 an hour, she’d have to work a minimum of 61 hours per week just to afford her apartment. The city has certainly seen a lot of growth within the past few years, but there needs to be more affordable housing available. That is one of the reasons that Abby’s House took on the major renovation project at 52 High St. – so 55 women who are low-income and would otherwise be homeless would have a safe, affordable and supportive place to live.

Photo | Grant Welker
Abby's House in Worcester has completed a renovation that has added, among other features, new common kitchens on each residential floor.

Are there many options in the city for homeless, particularly women and children?

Unfortunately, there continues to be a great need to provide housing to individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and there are few options specifically designed for women, with and without children. Typically 95% of the women who come through our doors have experienced domestic violence or trauma and want to be safe. Back when we were founded in 1976, there were only three shelter beds for women in Worcester, which is why we opened a shelter specifically designed to meet the needs of women, with and without children.

Abby’s House does advocacy work. What does that entail?

With help from our advocacy team, the women staying with us create an individualized empowerment plan designed to foster women’s empowerment and help them to reclaim and rebuild their lives. Individualized services allow us to work with each woman, given her own unique set of circumstances and needs.

You have both a shelter and housing. Are there efforts to find housing options versus use of the shelter for longer-term stability?

Since the beginning, we have not expanded our shelter, but rather have expanded the number of safe, affordable units of housing we have. After opening the shelter in 1976, more and more women kept arriving on our doorstep. We realized in order to be a part of the solution to homelessness, we had to offer housing. In 1993, we opened our first property of safe, affordable housing for women, then added more housing in 1995 and 2001. The Abby’s House shelter is meant to be temporary, and shelter guests work one-to-one with our advocacy team to find stable, long-term housing.

This interview was conducted and edited by Worcester Business Journal News Editor Grant Welker.

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