State gives $150K for homeless warming center
By Grace Bird
August 13th, 2019
GREENFIELD — After a year-long funding search intensified by the deaths of a couple camping outdoors in January, the state Department of Housing and Community Development committed $150,000 to pay for a warming center at Chapman Street’s Salvation Army.
The center is set to open Nov. 1 to April 30, ServiceNet Vice President of Community Relations Amy Timmins said. It will have a capacity of 20 people.
The center will be jointly operated by the Salvation Army and ServiceNet, a regional nonprofit that runs the county’s only homeless shelter for individuals, located on Wells Street.
The warming center is intended to alleviate chronic overcrowding at the Wells Street shelter in the winter months, said Jay Sacchetti, ServiceNet’s senior vice president of shelter and housing, vocational and addiction services. The Wells Street shelter has 20 beds and a persistent waitlist of about 20 people.
Meanwhile, as of January of last year, 90 people in Franklin County were homeless, with 87 staying in Greenfield, Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams said, citing a “point in time” survey administered by city advocates. Sacchetti said he has seen a steady rise in shelter usage over the past few years. In fiscal year 2017, 77 people used the shelter, while the following year, 87 people came through its doors. And in fiscal year 2019, that number rose to 118.
This winter, following the deaths of Clayton “Aaron” Wheeler and Kathleen Grady, the shelter opened its doors to anyone in need, resulting in the modest, one-floor facility becoming overcrowded with people. To help house the homeless in the aftermath, The Interfaith Council spent $5,000 to place people in local hotels, Adams said.
“We’ll be able to get plenty of people a place to go,” Sacchetti said. He added that the center would ensure the “unsafe” level of crowding at the Wells Street shelterthis winter does not happen again.
While the warming center will be open overnight, it will have chairs rather than beds for people to sleep, Adams said. She explained that if the center were to have beds, it would qualify as a shelter and would require refurbishments “that no one is in a position to fund.”
Adams noted that the warming shelter is only a temporary solution, adding that her focus remains on finding permanent housing for those in need.
“Shelters are just a real stop-gap,” Adams said, “and that doesn’t provide stability for people in need in order to make advances in other aspects of their lives.”
The idea emerged at a meeting last month at Community Action’s office in Greenfield with state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Sacchetti said. While Comerford said she was pleased with the funding, she conceded that a warming center is only a “piece of the puzzle” in efforts to reduce and eliminate homelessness in Franklin County. She said the state must be “held accountable” on the issue of homelessness.
“We know that in order to make homelessness non-occurring, infrequent and brief,” Comerford said, “the state needs to step up and look at affordable housing.”
Reach Grace Bird at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.