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For the 2nd straight year, governor freezes Craig’s Place shelter funding

  • Amherst Town Hall



Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

AMHERST — As the coldest air mass of the season settles over the Pioneer Valley, Gov. Charlie Baker is freezing the $200,000 included in the state budget to support Amherst’s only homeless shelter, Craig’s Place.

In a decision that is reminiscent of one the governor made a year ago, the earmark for Craig’s Doors: A Home Association Inc. was put on hold this fall.

“As of now, our contract has not yet been finalized, and the earmark is currently frozen,” Jade Lovett, co-executive director of Craig’s Doors said in an email. “As an organization, we are preparing for the best- and worst-case scenarios.”

The money is a portion of an $8.16 million line item included in the Department of Housing and Community Development budget. The earmark for the shelter has been in place since fiscal 2015 budget when it was included by Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and retired Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst.

Craig’s Place, located at the First Baptist Church, 434 North Pleasant St., is one of just two emergency homeless shelters in Hampshire County. The other is the Interfaith Winter Shelter, at 43 Center St., Northampton, that is operated by ServiceNet.

But Craig’s Place is the only shelter that has a behavior-based admittance policy, meaning its 28 beds are available for people who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol between Nov. 1 and April 30.

Gerry Weiss, a member of the Craig’s Doors board, said in an email that he has been told by Rosenberg that concerns about the state budget prompted Baker’s decision.

“The governor has withheld most of the earmarks in the budget as he determines if he thinks there is enough revenue to fund everything in the budget without it going out of balance,” Weiss said.

Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, D-Amherst, said in a statement that his office hasn’t heard anything that gives him hope the money will be released soon.

“So much of Craig’s Doors budget is comprised of state funding,” Goldstein-Rose said. “They will face an immense struggle to recoup this funding if they do not see action in a timely manner.”

Goldstein-Rose noted the state revenue figures are doing fine.

“It is reckless of the Baker administration to freeze earmark spending and give no indication as to when or whether they plan to release it, especially as state revenues continue to meet targets,” he said.

Rosenberg has appealed to Baker to let the money go to the agency.

“I have communicated directly and repeatedly with Gov. Baker about the importance of releasing all earmarks, especially those for programs like Craig’s Doors,” Rosenberg said in a statement issued through his office. “We are pressing as hard as we can.”

Still, the state budget remains a concern, even though earlier this month, Department of Revenue Commissioner Christopher C. Harding announced that preliminary revenue collections for November totaled $1.74 billion, $25 million above the monthly benchmark, and $247 million more than actual collections a year earlier.

But the Baker-Polito administration notes that December is an important month for revenue collections, with both estimated income and corporate payments, and there is a need to continue to review spending on various programs.

The fiscal 2018 budget includes $100 million in spending approved by the Legislature over Baker’s vetoes, lacks complete MassHealth reforms advocated by the governor and has about $200 million in underfunded accounts for such items as legal bills and snow and ice removal.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he has been aware of the challenge Craig’s Doors faces and could consider the shelter for some of the $60,000 in additional social service spending appropriated at annual Town Meeting.

Homelessness prevention, Latino outreach and food security have been considered priorities for this spending, and Bockelman anticipates soon setting up a specific process for how this money will be distributed.

Last year, when the same concern arose, Craig’s Doors was able to use money from donations and fundraisers, such as Shelter Sunday, to remain open and bridge the gap.

Whether this can happen in the same way again is unclear.

But Lovett said the public can offer assistance by calling or writing state officials, and participating in fundraising endeavors.

“The work of our supporters in the state government, coupled with the generous efforts of the greater Amherst community, pulled us through the funding crisis last year,” Lovett said. “I remain hopeful that the same will happen this year.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.