GREENFIELD — As more than 40 immigrant and refugee families settle into life in Greenfield, city officials are asking residents interested in offering assistance of any kind to contact the Health Department directly, rather than show up at the Days Inn where these families are temporarily being housed.
“There have been so many wonderful requests by people in the community to help,” Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said Friday. “And I am very gratified by that, whether it’s different social service agencies, which we are gathering along with ServiceNet, on who can and will do what.”
Individuals, too, have inquired about donations and offering translation services, she said. Anyone interested should contact Health Director Jennifer Hoffman at 413-772-1404. Donations brought to the hotel cannot be accepted.
“I’m looking for all different types of skills,” Hoffman said. “I will put them on a document that I share with ServiceNet.”
Currently, there isn’t a need for baby clothes, according to Hoffman and Wedegartner. Items such as diapers and wipes, however, continue to be in demand.
Wedegartner previously said she was notified by Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities that, due to a “critical shortage of affordable housing in the state,” families with children would be provided emergency shelter in Greenfield. As of Friday, 41 families had arrived to the city, according to Wedegartner, many of whom are Haitian immigrants, coming from the Boston area. Since then, ServiceNet has been tapped as the on-site provider through a contract signed with the state.
Greenfield School Department Superintendent Christine DeBarge said 15 students have been enrolled in kindergarten through 11th grade. Elementary-age students will attend their neighborhood school, Newton Elementary School.
“Numbers at the elementary [level] were not overwhelming and class sizes where the students were placed were generally good,” she said.
Though most students speak French Creole, there are some students with some level of Spanish and a little bit of English, she said.
“We do have staff that speak Spanish,” she said. “We have some translator services that we’re able to utilize as needed to communicate. … We’re also fortunate that we have a fair number of bilingual students, so principals have really looked to pair some of our new students with our current students.”
DeBarge said there were some challenges in the beginning. Before ServiceNet arrived, she said, the district’s registration staff went door-to-door at the hotel, looking to ensure families with school-age children knew how to enroll. With the end of the year approaching on Thursday, all of the students will also take part in the summer program, she added.
“Everybody has been fantastic, welcoming the students,” she said. “Our English language learner teachers, the translation staff, our registration staff have just been really looking to make sure the students feel welcome and comfortable.”
The Emergency Housing Assistance Program has continued to expand since Gov. Maura Healey’s administration took office in January. With rising housing costs and a steady flow of new arrivals to Massachusetts, the state has struggled to add capacity fast enough to shelter all the families seeking help.
According to the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, an estimated one-third of new families entering shelters are recent arrivals to Massachusetts.
“Our administration recently implemented an Incident Command Structure to lead a coordinated approach to addressing this crisis — including the Governor’s Office, Administration and Finance, Health and Human Services, Housing and Livable Communities, Public Safety and Security, Labor and Workforce Development, and Education,” a statement from the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities reads. “Together with the new leadership at the Office of Refugees and Immigrants, we are evaluating options to better accommodate [these families’ needs] and meet our obligations as a right-to-shelter state.”
Wedegartner said eventually, the city expects to be reimbursed for certain costs it incurs. She hopes to receive reimbursement for the use of ambulance services, in particular. DeBarge, too, said there is funding available for costs associated with the additional students in the school system.
As for how long she expects the families to take shelter at the Days Inn, that’s dependent upon the process of finding housing for them, regardless of where that is.
“We’re a right-to-shelter state, which means we’re obligated to serve families who are homeless,” Wedegartner said. “In some ways, this is part and parcel of the failure of the United States government to have a decent immigration policy. That said, the state of Massachusetts and a couple of other states out west, California and maybe Washington state, are receiving these immigrants from states like Florida, Texas … who are putting them on trains and busses and, in some cases, flying them out from the East Coast to the West Coast. Those states are not living up to their obligations so they’re sending them to states that will live up to those obligations.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.