Opioid Task Force, providers focus on plight of homelessness

BY ANITA FRITZ
THE GREENFIELD RECORDER
FRIDAY, JANUARY 29TH, 2021

As the weekend approached with the prediction of low single-digit temperatures into Sunday, the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and North Quabbin Region met virtually with social service providers to discuss what can be done for the rest of the winter and beyond to help those who are homeless.

“This is a timely issue,” said Opioid Task Force Co-Chair and Register of Probate John Merrigan. “We won’t solve this tremendous problem before this weekend, but we have to keep working on it.”

Kristin Smith, program director at Clinical & Support Options (CSO), the agency that runs the city’s warming center at its Greenfield Living Room on High Street, said a total of 10 people can be in the shelter at one time because of COVID-19 restrictions. She said it is open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We ask people to make space for others if they’ve been there a while,” Smith said. “We can’t do showers or laundry, also because of COVID. But we offer food, coffee, water and peer support.”

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner authorized Community Development Block Grant money to fund the warming center this winter. Clinical & Support Options took the responsibility of providing the space and support.

Opioid Task Force Coordinator Debra McLaughlin said the warming center was originally created last year with the help of the Salvation Army, which provided a night shelter to some, but that couldn’t happen this year because of the pandemic.

“The city secured state funding and for that we are grateful,” McLaughlin said. “It makes this possible.”

Smith said the Interfaith Council of Franklin County provides food and snacks, all pre-wrapped per COVID-19 protocol, and Clinical & Support Options has a “clothes closet” to provide the homeless with gloves, socks, hats, lined pants and more. The center also has one desktop computer that people can use for up to a half-hour at a time.

“We also provide to-go snack bags for those leaving the center,” she said.

For information about the warming center and its hours of operation, call 413-774-1000.

Rose Facto, acting director of the homeless shelter run by ServiceNet on Wells Street, said renovations to the building, thanks to an anonymous donor, have been completed, so the overnight shelter now has 30 beds — 20 upstairs and 10 downstairs.

“If people need shelter, they can call or stop in and we’ll do an intake interview,” Facto said. “If we don’t have a bed available, we can provide hotel vouchers for a night or two or three.”

Facto said many who are homeless are also suffering from addiction, so if someone comes in and is at risk, the shelter will find them a bed, and will send someone who is less at risk and has been staying there to the hotel, so that there is supervision for the person more at risk.

“We don’t provide transportation, though,” she said.

For more information about the shelter on Wells Street, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, call 413-772-6100.

Smith and Facto said, along with other providers, that there is concern for a number of homeless people living near the Route 2 rotary. Providers said they are doing outreach and trying to coordinate with Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) to provide transportation to the warming center during the day.

McLaughlin said more meetings will be held this year to discuss and find solutions to the homelessness problem in Greenfield and the county.

“Most important is to make sure people have a safe place to be,” she said.

Smith, Facto and others agreed that while providers help take care of their immediate needs, they also want to work this year on providing the homeless a pathway to stable housing.

Keileigh Pereira, program director of the Three County (Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire) Continuum of Care, a program of Community Action Pioneer Valley, said federal funding and regional planning is allowing for programming to help, in particular, the chronically homeless. Someone is considered chronically homeless if they have consistently been homeless for a year or have had four episodes of homelessness over three consecutive years.

Pereira said data is being collected in hopes to someday end homelessness.

“We’re looking at housing models that result in limited or no barriers to housing,” she said. “We work with others and connect people to other resources.”

Pereira said a major focus has become youth and young adult homelessness, but she said families, adults and veterans are some of the other demographics. Racial equity is another issue the Three County Continuum of Care is working to achieve.

“That’s more urgent than ever,” she said.

According to Pereira’s data, 14 people have been identified as homeless, either sheltered or not, since November in Franklin County. A total of 42 are known. She said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, better known as HUD, does not count “couch surfing” as homelessness, but there is an entire population of people who do just that throughout the county, either staying with friends, family members or acquaintances. If they didn’t have a place to sleep, even for a night or two, they would be considered homeless. She said many of the people who couch surf are under the age of 24.

Three County Continuum of Care provides funding for efforts by nonprofit program providers, area stakeholders, and state and local governments to house homeless individuals and families; looks to minimize trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals; and helps optimize self-sufficiency among those experiencing homelessness.

The program is new to Community Action Pioneer Valley, which holds coordinated entry meetings with area partners working to house the most vulnerable populations and works closely with the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness.

For more information about Three County Continuum of Care, visit bit.ly/3r150VT. Additionally, the Opioid Task Force will soon be providing a list of resources for people who need help finding shelter, food or other types of support on its website, opioidtaskforce.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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