Advocates rally to aid homeless as winter looms




GREENFIELD — As the days get colder and nighttime temperatures begin to hit freezing, city officials and local advocacy groups and housing providers are working together to ensure shelter for the homeless population.

“What we’re finding now is that because there are more evictions, we have a situation where all of the shelter beds are full and have been full for months, and all of the motels we were using are full, and we don’t expect that to change,” said Greenfield resident Susan Worgaftik, a member of Housing Greenfield, a local housing advocacy organization. “We’re now in a situation where, for those very cold nights, we have to figure out something for people who are willing to live in temperatures at 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) but cannot do it at 10.”

Worgaftik said that in preparation for the winter months, the advocacy group has been in conversation with Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams on how to assist “our unhoused neighbors.”

“This winter, we have the ServiceNet shelter and we have connections to other organizations,” Adams said. “Everyone will do their best to make sure everyone is out of the cold as best as they can be.”

She said places like the library and the John W. Olver Transit Center will be open during the day for those seeking respite from the cold.

The shelter on Wells Street, meanwhile, which is run by ServiceNet, has 30 beds and is currently at full capacity, according to Vice President of Community Relations Amy Timmins.

“We’ve been consistently full year-round,” she said. “In the past, it used to go down in the summer with 20 beds, but we’ve been consistently at capacity with 20 beds. … There has not been as much turnover as in the past, because there’s so little housing in the area for people to rent.”

Still, as in past years, Timmins emphasized ServiceNet won’t turn away anyone who shows up on a cold day.

“They can sit in The Living Room while we look for a motel space or space in other shelters, which is essentially the plan we’ve had the last two years when the pandemic came along … and we were no longer at the Salvation Army,” she explained.

In 2019, ServiceNet had funding to establish a warming center at the Salvation Army.

Adams said while establishing a similar overnight warming center was discussed, there isn’t currently an organization or facility available to make it possible.

“The reality is, we’re in a time of flux right now, in terms of folks who are providing the services,” she said.

ServiceNet, she explained, will not be renewing its state contracts in Greenfield and Northampton. A new provider will take over in spring 2023.

“We’re doing what we’ve been doing and continuing to provide continued care,” Timmins said of the coming provider change. “In terms of hands-on services and shelter and food, there will not be an interruption of service during that transition (with the successor agency).”

Worgaftik said Housing Greenfield will continue to work with the city on solutions. It’s not an adversarial relationship, she noted.

“This situation is … up and down the valley,” Worgaftik said. “It’s not like we can put folks into a van and say ‘There’s a place in Hadley, and we can take you there.’”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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