Thanks to anonymous donor, Wells Street homeless shelter in Greenfield adding more beds for winter

BY ANNA FRITZ

THE RECORDER

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2ND, 2020

GREENFIELD — As the weather worsens and temperatures drop each year, 20 people who are homeless are welcomed into ServiceNet’s Wells Street shelter for at least a 30-day stay. This year, even with all of the restrictions and safety protocols required because of the pandemic, it will welcome 30, thanks to an anonymous donor.

ServiceNet Senior Vice President of Shelter and Housing, Vocational and Addiction Services Jay Sacchetti said the anonymous donor gave “enough” for the Wells Street shelter to be renovated, so now 10 people will sleep downstairs and 20 will sleep upstairs. The individual who donated does not want to be named or to reveal the size of the donation.

“We weren’t using the upstairs until COVID-19 hit,” explained Rose Facto, acting director of Franklin County’s only homeless shelter for individuals. “Then, we had to move 10 upstairs and keep 10 downstairs to maintain social distancing.”

The problem, Sacchetti said, has been that the shelter needed more toilets and showers on the 3,000-square-foot upstairs level.

“We’re hoping construction is completed by the end of December,” Sacchetti said. “It will give us the ability to bring 10 more people in this winter and separate them safely.”

Sacchetti said there will be three showers, a laundry area and several toilets upstairs, enough to accommodate 20 people. When the pandemic is over, there will be room for 40 guests in the shelter, but Sacchetti said whether that happens will depend on receiving the state funding it will need to operate a shelter that size — it will need greater staffing, for instance.

“The state funds us at 65 percent right now,” he said. “The rest we get in donations and grants, and we live with deficits. We’d need to be funding at about 85 percent.”

Sacchetti said ServiceNet has had a lot of success so far keeping guests safe from COVID-19. Among all three of its shelters in Greenfield, Northampton and Pittsfield, it has had an almost zero percent infection rate since the pandemic began.

“Guests get involved in sanitizing,” Facto said. “They want to stay safe and keep their living space clean. … A crew comes in twice a week, and the guests clean daily. I feel really safe working here.”

The overnight shelter is open from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day — from morning until late afternoon, those living there have to go somewhere else. Some look for jobs, some look for housing, others are in recovery and some just hang out with friends.

Sacchetti said it’s not a bad thing for people to have to get up out of bed and go out for the day, because some 24/7 shelters find that some guests just lie in bed all day.

“They need a change of scenery,” he said. “And, we have rules. Once admitted into the shelter, a guest can stay for 30 days, if they don’t break the rules. If they’re working to get housing and a job, they can stay 60 days. If they work really hard and we see that, they can stay up to 90 days.”

Facto said there is typically a waiting list of 25 to 30 people, and they can wait anywhere from 30 to 60 days to get in.

Greenfield hopes to open warming center

This year, Greenfield officials are working to open a warming center where homeless people can go during the day to stay out of the elements and cold.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said the city hasn’t found a location yet, so she’s not sure how much it will cost, but is hoping to use some Community Development Block Grant money to fund it.

Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams said she is working with Community Development Administrator Lindsay Rowe to secure up to $30,000 in grant money that wasn’t spent over the past couple of years to put toward the project. Rowe said the city will probably know within the next few weeks where the warming center would be located, who would staff it and how much it would cost.

Wedegartner said city officials are keenly aware of the needs of the homeless in the city, and also realize that many homeless people are transient, so Greenfield could see more people come into the city before winter even begins. A few homeless people were sleeping in Energy Park over the summer and fall, but city officials said they are not aware of them staying there any longer, especially since temperatures started to drop.

Others pitch in

Greenfield Salvation Army Lt. Emily Leslie said the Chapman Street building won’t be able to operate a warming center, as it did in partnership with ServiceNet last winter, because of the pandemic. Still, she said, the Salvation Army plans to help in any way that it can.

“If someone needs shelter, we’re offering to get them a room at a hotel on the really super cold, brutal nights, but only for that time,” she said. “We’ll also be making referrals to other shelters.”

Leslie said there have been times when the Salvation Army has found people sleeping in its doorway. She said there is always a need to help the homeless in Greenfield. The Salvation Army on Chapman Street has also been providing takeout lunches to people who need them.

Amy Clarke, a member of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, said the organization is working with ServiceNet, the city and other partners to make sure people have housing this winter and throughout the year. Around a decade ago, there was a sheltering crisis and the Second Congregational Church on Court Square opened its basement to six people every night throughout that winter. It was expensive to staff, so it was decided that the money could be put to better use, she said.

“We want to catch people before they become homeless,” she said.

The council has provided money to people, about $500 per person, to help them get organized or move them out of a shelter or pay off bills so they can save for housing. Money comes from donations. The council also owned a house on Church Street that it sold several years ago, and it uses money from the sale to provide about $15,000 a year to help people find housing.

“We’re not working directly with ServiceNet or the city, but we’re doing what we can so fewer people are homeless,” Clarke said. “We meet every Tuesday and consider new applications. We help people fill in the gaps. We’re trying to keep people out of shelters.”

To donate to the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, visit bit.ly/33BHaac.

Shelter rules

Facto said the Well Street shelter welcomes individuals — Greenfield Family Inn accommodates families and is also run by ServiceNet — with many different stories.

“There’s no one profile for our guests,” Facto said, “but everyone has to have the same goals: get a job, save 30 percent of their income, start paying off their debt. We help them with that. There are three case managers and six or seven other staff members who help by making guests safe, cook with them, help them sign up for services, whatever they need.”

She said there are also “very strict” rules: no one can use substances in the building, weapons are not allowed and there is zero tolerance for violence. On the first floor of the building, across the hall from the shelter, is a resource center where guests can use a computer.

“We’re doing all that we can,” Facto said. “We’re here to help people get back on their feet.”

For more information or to donate, visit servicenet.org and click on “Donate Now.” To donate items, including clothing, outerwear, hats, scarves and mittens, new underwear and socks, blankets and twin-size bedding, drop them off at the shelter at 60 Wells St. between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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

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