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Overnight homeless shelters open for the season

Kevin Noonan, director of Craig's Doors, right, works with volunteer Matt Brown, left, to get cots ready last season at the homeless shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst.

Kevin Noonan, director of Craig's Doors, right, works with volunteer Matt Brown, left, to get cots ready last season at the homeless shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst. BULLETIN FILE PHOTO. Purchase photo reprints »

Even with six additional beds available to homeless people at shelters in Hampshire County this season, demand for overnight accommodations is expected to outpace supply.

“We’re continuing to see more and more people,” said Danielle DeBerry, who oversees the Interfaith Winter Shelter in Northampton as director of Hampshire County emergency shelters for ServiceNet. “It’s not like this issue is getting better.”

Even before the 20-bed shelter at 43 Center St. opened Thursday at 6 p.m., DeBerry said she has been seeing many new faces at other social service programs.

The shelter, which is run by ServiceNet, a nonprofit mental health and human services agency, and Friends of the Hampshire County Homeless, a Northampton charity, will be open through April 30.

Kevin Noonan, executive director of Craig’s Doors, which runs Amherst’s shelter at the First Baptist Church at 434 North Pleasant St., said while he appreciates Town Manager John Musante’s permission to increase its number of beds from 16 to 22, it is unlikely to be enough.

“This is one of the symptoms of a terrible economy,” Noonan said.

He said he also worries that the region will have a colder and snowier winter, which will put more pressure on all the shelters.

“It’s unlikely we’ll have as mild a winter as last year,” Noonan said. “We had hardly any snow, and that allowed people to camp outside.”

Amherst’s shelter first opened temporarily Monday during superstorm Sandy. It officially opened Thursday night and will be open through April 30.

Both DeBerry and Noonan said the demand for more beds may not be seen right away, as many homeless individuals will to make it on their own until temperatures drop lower.

Northampton had two women and four men stay the first night, DeBerry said. Amherst had two women and 10 men, Noonan said.

Next month, an annex of six beds for men will be available at the Our Lady of the Valley Church in Easthampton through a partnership between the Friends of the Homeless and the Soldier On program. The seasonal shelters are supplemented by year-round beds at the Grove Street Inn in Northampton.

Each shelter has a representative from Eliot Homeless Services available one night per week to provide counseling, and a nurse from Mercy Medical Center’s Healthcare for the Homeless also visits once each week.

Both also depend on volunteers and donors.

In Northampton, around 400 volunteers, including members of different community organizations, prepare the food that is served in the evening.

“Volunteers put a lot of thought, care and energy into making these meals,” DeBerry said.

In the morning, cereal, toast and coffee is served before people leave at 7 a.m.

Two Smith College students also are on hand to do a variety of chores and engage in conversation with guests.

Amherst has two paid staff on at all times and volunteers prepare dinner that is served shortly after 9:30 p.m., when the shelter opens.

A breakfast is also served in the morning, sometimes just toast and cereal, but occasionally something more elaborate, like eggs and pancakes, Noonan said.

One change in Amherst this year is the use of metal detectors to scan people as they enter the shelter. This is a requirement of the contract with the town, which provides $90,500 toward operations, Noonan said.

Amherst’s shelter is behavior based, meaning people are welcome to stay, even if they have recently used drugs or alcohol as long as they are calm and pose no danger to other guests.

DeBerry said the intake procedures in Northampton, which does not allow intoxicated people in, ensure a safe environment. This means requiring each guest to provide his or her name, an identification and other information, as well as agreeing to a search of belongings.

Funding for ServiceNet programs comes from local, state and federal sources, the United Ways in Franklin and Hampshire counties and grants.

The shelters also appeal to the public for money and for supplies such as towels, blankets, personal hygiene products and office supplies.

During Shelter Sunday fundraisers in Northampton and Amherst each fall, volunteers go door-to-door to solicit funds.

Noonan said anyone wishing to make financial contributions to the Amherst shelter can send money to Craig’s Doors, P.O. Box 101, Amherst, MA 01004.

In Northampton, donations can be made directly to ServiceNet or to the Friends of the Homeless, P.O. Box 60398, Florence, MA 01062.

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