Thursday Cafe Program Offers Warmth, Food for Worcester Homeless

Think about a time when you came home from a long day of work, school or errands and wanted nothing more than to collapse into your warm bed and sleep away your troubles. Now, imagine instead having to sleep on a hard surface in below freezing temperatures with the occasional bouts of rain, sleet and snow. This is the reality of the many people that make up Worcester’s homeless population. Working to change this reality is Father Warren Hicks of the Worcester Fellowship ministry.

After taking over as pastor of Worcester Fellowship in 2015, Hicks (who prefers to be called “Padre Warren” by parishioners) launched a new program last fall called “Thursday Café,” a warming center that is housed at All Saints Episcopal Church on Irving St. Every Thursday afternoon from 1:30pm to 5pm, people who are homeless or living at a low-income level will be welcomed into the church’s parish house and offered a quiet place to rest and enjoy a snack. Toiletry kits will also be provided and guests will be allowed to use the facilities. Upon departure, guests get to take various warm pieces of clothing that they need and are given a bagged lunch.

(Hicks presides over communion at Worcester Fellowship)

Hicks says that the need for a program like Thursday Café became obvious when the leaders at Worcester Fellowship realized that many homeless people were spending time at the Worcester Public Library trying to get warm and rest. “It’s hard to get sleep on the street if you are alone,” says Hicks. “The risk of losing your things or being assaulted rises when folks are trying to sleep.” During Thursday Cafés, Hicks says that there will be multiple inflatable mattresses available for guests to take a nap without having to worry about their safety and security.

The program is modeled after a similar endeavor in Cambridge, Mass. started by the Rev. Kate Layzer. According to Hicks, “I heard that the Outdoor Church in Cambridge had started this program [in 2014] after the harsh winter in Boston.” Hicks explained that the leaders of the Outdoor Church had recognized the need for a place that people could come to and rest for a few hours was not being met by the existing ministry.

(The Rev. Greg Lisby of All Saints unpacks inflatable mattresses in preparation for Thursday Café)

In Worcester, the needs are very similar. “Safe, affordable housing is the most pressing need for folks in Worcester,” says Hicks, who acknowledges that this is a long-term goal. “What we need immediately are more shelter beds, both for those in recovery and those who are not there yet. Emergency shelter in the winter is a pressing need,” he adds. While these needs are great, national legislation to protect the rights of the homeless has made significant progress. Recently, the United States Department of Justice determined that it is unconstitutional to prevent the homeless from sleeping outside in public areas, such as park benches, if adequate shelter space is unavailable. The DOJ based the ruling off of the fact that sleep is a life-sustaining activity and therefore cannot be prevented. While this is a step in the right direction for the homeless community, Hicks hopes that the need for people to sleep outdoors will be completely eliminated in the future.

For Hicks, the hope is that Thursday Café will be a safe space for people to rest and conserve energy during the harsh winter months. Additionally, he hopes that guests will find in Thursday Cafés “a space to share their stories and allow us to provide some spiritual ‘first aid.’”

If you are interested in getting involved with Thursday Café or Worcester Fellowship, email Warren Hicks at [email protected].