By Brendan Pauley
WORCESTER- The Main South area of Worcester remains a source of dismay and optimism alike for city residents. In impromptu interviews conducted around City Hall, they lamented the current state of the neighborhood while looking forward to the possibilities of its future.
Once part of Worcester’s thriving manufacturing district, Main South has become one of Downtown’s most notorious neighborhoods. The roughly one square mile area surrounding Main Street, stretching from Chandler to Lakewood, is now known for drug dealing and prostitution.
Worcester residents outside City Hall were eager to talk about the pros and cons of living in the area.
“It’s the drugs,” said Michael, a 35-year-old lifelong Worcesterite. “They’re everywhere in the city, but Main South is by far the worst.”
Michael is no stranger to the streets himself; he explained how he started using prescription painkillers in his youth, eventually moving to heroin when pills became too expensive. Feeding the habit causes much of the crime associated with the area.
“I grew up there and I’ve always known that there were a lot of problems,” said Jayson, a high school student who attended Claremont Elementary School. “My parents always talked about safety. We had to be careful about locking the doors and leaving stuff outside so it wouldn’t get stolen.”
Jayson said that he did feel safer when he was on Clark University’s campus. However, that feeling of security didn’t go much further than the immediate area – a sentiment shared by Heather, a 33-year-old Worcester resident.
“I don’t feel safe there,” she said, in reference to the 700 block. “I avoid it. I won’t go there anymore.”
Like Michael, Heather has personal experience with the area drug trade. She recounted her experiences sleeping at the People in Peril (PIP) shelter formerly located on Main Street. She explained that the building was overcrowded, and while it did give her a place to sleep for the night, the shelter also admitted active drug users, some of whom could be combative.
Katherine, a student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), knew the area more by reputation than experience.
“I’ve heard of it, people I know joke about how bad it is,” she said. “I also know that the city is doing a lot to try and revitalize the area, but that will probably take a while.”
Despite their critiques, the interviewees seemed optimistic about Main South’s future. They think the neighborhood can recover with the right combination of treatment and outreach programs. Both Michael and Heather mentioned the farmers market at Fuller Park as a positive force in the area. Michael’s own treatment program, the Crozier House, is located in the heart of the neighborhood.
“I think that the area is going to get better,” said Tyler, a 27-year-old Worcester resident. “It’s getting a lot of attention right now, and that has to be a good thing.”
Tyler drew parallels to Piedmont Street, which in his youth was infamous for drugs and prostitution. That area has largely turned around, something Tyler believes is possible in Main South as well.