Homelessness is making headlines in Greenfield — but people are in need everywhere, advocates say

GREENFIELD — While the growing number of people sleeping on the Town Common has drawn attention to homelessness here, the need in Greenfield is no greater than in other communities, advocates say.

 

Jay Sacchetti is senior vice president of shelter and housing with ServiceNet. The agency operates emergency shelters in Pittsfield and Northampton in addition to Greenfield.

 

“We see a growing number of people on the street in all these communities,” he said. “It’s become very visible.”

 

At the agency’s 20-bed shelter in Greenfield, waiting lists for beds even in the summer has grown to 30 or 40 a night.

 

He called it a perfect storm of factors that is heightening the crises: rising rents, the lack of a living wage and opioid addiction.

 

“Rents have gone up in all these communities,” Sacchetti said. Where Greenfield was once more affordable, rents are now about $1,000 or more a month.

 

He said there’s no way someone earning $12 or $13 an hour, or receiving a $700 a monthly disability benefit, can afford a rent that high.

 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Greenfield’s poverty rate is listed at 13.1 percent, compared to the 10.4 percent state average.

 

Sacchetti said renters are facing more competition for apartments. “When they come on the market the landlords are much more careful these days,” Sacchetti said, adding that landlords want to ensure the tenant has a steady income.

 

Meanwhile, he said, people treated for opioid addiction “end up on the street when they cycle in and out of treatment.”

 

And without more affordable housing, he said, there’s “no easy solution.”

 

Most state and federal funding pays for housing programs in the bigger cities, even though places like Greenfield and Pittsfield — where the poverty rate is 16.7 percent — have some of the state’s “poorest demographics,” he said.

 

Communities like Boston also dedicate more money to the issue, he said. According the Boston budget, the city will spend $8.5 million from its general fund to help meet housing needs. Greenfield has no such line item.

 

“As the need changes in smaller towns, the funding is entrenched in other areas of the state,” Sacchetti said.

He said while about 17 percent of the state’s homeless live in Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin counties, the money devoted to homelessness in those areas is just seven percent of the state’s housing services budget.

 

“That’s no fault of anybody’s,” he said, adding, “There is no easy solution.”

 

And that means finding short-term housing for the dozen-plus people camping on the Town Common, or helping them find permanent housing. ServiceNet operates an 18-bed permanent housing site but it’s full.

 

Sacchetti said case managers do what they can. “We do the best we can to give them assistance,” he said.

 

The Town Council, meanwhile, will be meeting Thursday night to discuss the matter.

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