Director of Community Engagement Sean Harris (center) speaks at the Housing Justice Summit

Last month Quinsigamond Community College participated in Worcester State University’s first Housing Justice Summit. QCC was a co-sponsor of the event, along with UniBank and WSU’s Urban Studies Department and the John J. Binienda Center for Civic Engagement.

The focus of the gathering was to address the region’s housing crisis and housing insecurity, highlight the many groups that are working to remedy the housing crisis and connect constituents. The summit included panel discussions, presentations, networking, and open remarks by QCC President Dr. Luis Pedraja.

“Housing insecurity doesn’t just affect the person who is unhoused. It’s a reflection of our values as a community,” Pedraja said. “A recent study found that 11% of community college students are housing insecure. That might not sound like a lot, but we serve approximately 6,400 students. That’s over seven hundred students. College students are trying to find a better life but obstacles like this prevent people from getting there. I’m glad we’re gathering at a higher education institution to discuss this because these are places to engage and advocate.”

QCC’s Director of Community Engagement Sean Harris was a member of the panel that addressed the various efforts of organizations throughout the Worcester area.

“Part of the problem is that not every student lets us know they are dealing with housing insecurity. But for those we do know about, we know that it has an impact on them. One thing we do have is a good group of specialists on campus like Manager for Student Resources Bonnie Coleman and Director of Counseling and Wellness Tina Wells,” said Harris. “We also collaborate with Worcester State University and have a partnership with LUK (a nonprofit that addresses homelessness, mental health and addiction in Central Massachusetts).”

Massachusetts State Senator Robyn Kennedy, who was also a panelist at the summit, stressed the importance of securing housing for the most marginalized populations.

“We have to fundamentally change the way we're doing business. And if humanity and compassion don’t get you, it actually costs less to keep people housed,” Kennedy remarked.

Other panelists reported on trends they have been seeing, such as an increase in homeless students and families living in shelters or with friends and families, according to Maura Mahoney, director of McKinney Vento Services for Worcester Public Schools.

Darshia Diaz, system navigator at Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, noted that many municipalities in the state have control over what type of housing is built and they are keeping people out by voting down multi-family units.

“Mixed-income housing helps children break the poverty cycle. How do we move a community, not just find individuals housing,” Diaz inquired.

In a positive trend, Alex Corrales, CEO of Worcester Housing Authority mentioned that while the waitlists for housing are very long, since 2015 the average number of families purchasing a home went from one per year to over eight per year.

Other panelists included:

  • Trish Appert, executive director of Friendly House
  • Tasia Cerezo, co-founder and CEO of Meryl’s Safe Haven
  • Alex Corrales, CEO of Worcester Housing Authority
  • Tim Garvin, president and CEO of United Way of Central Massachusetts
  • Annessia Jimenez, community organizer at Worcester Common Ground
  • Benji Kemper, community organizer at the Center for Living & Working
  • Steve Stolberg, housing assistance coordinator at Center for Living & Working in Worcester
  • Evis Terpollari, City of Worcester homeless projects manager
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