Opioid Task Force, local agencies highlight lack of homeless resources


Staff Writer

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

The Opioid Task of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region and the North Quabbin Community Coalition partnered to host a Zoom conversation to begin addressing concerns about the lack of regional resources for homeless individuals.

“What is the Winter Safety Net for Unhoused Individuals in Franklin County and the North Quabbin” brought together shelter service providers, concerned residents, advocacy groups and state legislators as they discussed the lack of proper resources for those who are homeless across Western Massachusetts, particularly for people of color.

“The numbers are as high as we’ve ever seen in those needing shelter,” said Keleigh Pereire, director of Community Action’s Three County Continuum of Care. “There’s a much higher percentage of Black and Latino people in our homeless populations.”

The conversation shifted between short-term and long-term solutions to the lack of shelters and resources in the county. In the North Quabbin region specifically, the absence of options has led to agencies reaching out to local religious groups to secure shelter, according to the North Quabbin Community Coalition’s Youth & Family Engagement Coordinator Amanda Mankowsky.

“We truly don’t have very many options for our members in the North Quabbin,” Mankowsky said. “We’re referring to some of our local churches who are able to put people up in hotels for a few nights’ stay.”

In Greenfield, ServiceNet operates a shelter at 60 Wells St. for homeless individuals, but that capacity is limited to 30 beds, according to ServiceNet Director of Operations Erin Forbush. If that capacity is reached, however, accommodations will be made.

“We are not going to leave anybody out in the cold,” Forbush said. “We are going to find a space for them.”

Forbush said the 60 Wells St. shelter is a “low-threshold, behavior-based shelter,” which means there are no requirements to enter as long as the safety of everybody is guaranteed.

“There’s no agreement other than you come in and you can maintain your behavior,” Forbush said. “Everybody is welcome.”

Northfield resident Cate Woolner said the region runs into the issue of sheltering people every winter, and a plan needs to be in place “by next October and an interim plan in place now.”

“If anyone freezes to death this winter,” Woolner said, “it will be on each of us.”

Jerry Lund, a board member for the Community Health Center of Franklin County, suggested the use of the vacant Farren Care Center in Montague, which closed in April 2021, and is potentially slated for demolition. He added it’s “ironic” that the former long-term care facility was considered safe in April but cannot be used as an emergency shelter now.

“It was warm and cozy enough for 100-odd people to live safely not even a year ago,” Lund said. “Somehow we are dealing with a possible option of destroying the building. … I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Other topics included discussions on what funding could be used to support some emergency and long-term initiatives. One attendee brought up Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money, but that cannot be used because Gov. Charlie Baker ended the Massachusetts state of emergency in June, according to Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness.

Schwartz suggested they try to pressure the governor to reinstate a “narrow version” of the state of emergency to secure this funding, an idea that state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, supported.

As the discussion continued, the potential for a larger, more focused group to work through the homeless emergency appeared.

“We are a gathering point and a vehicle for joining our forces around policy change,” Schwartz said. “What’s here is incredible power to create change over the coming months and years.”

Short-term resources

■The 24/7 shelter at 60 Wells St. operated by ServiceNet can be reached at 413-772-6100. Forbush said to choose Option 2 and a message may have to be left if staff members are busy.

■The Greenfield Family Inn and Shelter at 128 Federal St. can be reached at 413-774-6382.

■The North Quabbin Community Coalition can be reached at 978-249-3703.

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