Shelter director retires after decades helping people have a home

  • BY MARY BYRNE
  • THE GREENFIELD RECORDER
  • MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13TH, 2021

GREENFIELD — In his nearly 40 years with ServiceNet — 30 of which he served as director of the Greenfield Family Inn — Fran Lemay witnessed firsthand the changing landscape of housing and homelessness in Franklin County.

“In the beginning, I could look in the Greenfield Recorder and see 40, 50, 60 apartments for rent,” said the lifelong Greenfield resident. “You could look in the Recorder today, and there are no apartments.”

Subsidized housing also used to be more available, yet now there’s a year-long waiting list, according to Lemay.

“It becomes more of a challenge to find apartments, where it was a lot easier before,” he said.

Lemay, who retired as director of the shelter on Friday, started with ServiceNet about 38 years ago — first, as a counselor and then as a senior counselor, before working his way up to assistant director. In 1991, a friend working in the sheltering division of the agency told him about the director position at the Greenfield Family Inn at 128 Federal St.

“I applied for it, and I got it,” he said.

But Lemay, 32 at the time, never expected he would still be in the role 30 years later.

“For me, I was able to stick with this job because when my kids were sick, I could be home; when they had a doctor’s appointment, I was able to be home,” he said. “They knew who dad was.

Lemay said it really came down to the benefits the job offered him — plenty of family, holiday and sick time.

“I always tell people I was rich with family,” he said.

And that time off to spend with family — the time to “rejuvenate” — was necessary for what could often be a stressful job.

“Every day is different,” he said. “When I think I’ve seen everything, I haven’t.”

Lemay said when he first started, the program — now funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development — fell under the Department of Transitional Assistance.

“To help a family move out, we would have $500 per family to help out,” he said. “Now, they expanded that to where it’s $10,000 that you would have to help the family out, especially if it was to be full-market rent — so you could pay first, last, security and then a stipend for 10 months.”

What’s more, the maximum length of stay at the shelter on Federal Street used to be 90 days

“I’m finding families are staying a lot longer until they’re able to get into an apartment,” he said. “There isn’t a maximum; as long as everybody’s working with the program, looking for housing, saving 30%.”

Lemay said he often emphasizes to people that everyone at the Greenfield Family Inn is working through a program.

“Each family has their own room,” he said. “We try to make it a home-like atmosphere. … Everyone is doing their assigned chores. Everybody has a plan they have to follow — so, you’re working on a housing search, … working with a case manager. … You’re really working at a program.”

And watching families work through the program — eventually finding an apartment to call their own — has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the job, Lemay said.

“I think what kept me going … was the gratitude,” he said. “It was just that handshake, that thank you. … That’s the part that feels really good.”

Lemay recalled a man, now in his late 20s, who stopped by the shelter one afternoon, years after he’d lived there with his parents. The man, who wanted to drop off a cash donation, shared memories of his time there during the holidays.

“He was so thankful,” Lemay recounted. “Many times, you’re helping families, and you just don’t know how much you’ve helped the family because you don’t see it until the end.”

Under Lemay’s leadership, the program has helped to place more than 500 families — something Lemay insists he nor the program can take full credit for.

“The community has been such a big part,” he said, naming a host of social service agencies serving Franklin County . “Not only all the other agencies, but the donations and the volunteering.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

Fran Lemay of the Greenfield Family Inn readies a room for the next family.

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