Amherst homeless shelter pioneer Kevin Noonan steps down

  • Craig’s Doors Executive Director Kevin Noonan talks on Nov. 1 about the opening of the overnight shelter at its new home in the parish hall of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/25/2022 9:11:59 AM

AMHERST — A resident who twice has overseen sheltering efforts for homeless people in the community, including pioneering work when Amherst in 2009 offered its first site for people to keep warm and safe during the cold weather months, is again departing from the position.

Kevin Noonan recently resigned as executive director of Craig’s Doors: A Home Association Inc., a role he returned to in the fall of 2019 after the previous leadership team stepped down.

Also leaving the agency at this time are Denise Barberet, administrator and assistant executive director, and Jeremiah Blankenbaker, who had served as director of operations.

Gerry Weiss, president of the Craig’s Doors board, said the decision was based on wanting to have new leadership moving forward, and that advertising will soon seek a new executive director.

“In the meantime, the board and various staff members will be running all aspects of the functioning of the agency,” Weiss said. “We do not expect any ongoing services to be affected by this change.”

Noonan, 66, was instrumental in launching what was known as “the warming place” in 2009 and founding Craig’s Doors in 2011 to operate a full-fledged shelter. The agency takes its name from the late Craig D. Lorraine, a Navy veteran who had stayed at the shelter and was known for playing marimba on the streets of Northampton.

In a reflection submitted to the Gazette, Noonan wrote that he is proud to live in a community that has given so much support to the work done on behalf of those who are vulnerable.

“Throughout this crisis Craig’s Doors has not only kept people from freezing to death but we’ve done what we could to help keep them safe from a deadly virus which has already claimed one million lives in the United States and nearly 6.3 million worldwide,” Noonan wrote. “It’s been a worthy struggle even though any resources we were able to secure would gladly have been returned for those precious lives which were lost.”

During the past 2½ years, Craig’s Doors has expanded from the 28 individuals it could serve overnight to 70 who are being helped daily. While the emergency overnight shelter has continued to be based at one or more churches in Amherst, the agency has also been able to rent rooms at local hotels to give people more permanent living arrangements and ease the transition to supportive housing.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek complimented the agency on its work with the homeless population.

“Craig's Doors has done a wonderful job keeping people safe and housed during the pandemic and we will work to support their mission moving forward,” Ziomek said.

Ziomek said he expects the good collaborative relationship to continue under new leadership.

Noonan’s expertise included previously serving as director of the Open Pantry soup kitchen in Springfield for 20 years, before joining Amherst’s Committee on Homelessness and becoming involved in identifying the First Baptist Church as a potential site for a shelter in 2009, where the Center for Human Development site opened that December.

Noonan also launched a year-round, weekly Wednesday morning breakfast at the Unitarian Meetinghouse.

When he left his role the first time, in 2014, he became director of the field office for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Raleigh, North Carolina, spending five years there.

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

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