Craig’s Doors secures more room for homeless

  • William Stella cleans the cot he will sleep on for the night at Craig's Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst. Each person gets their temperature taken before entering and if they are symptom-free they are allowed in, given dinner and a place to sleep. It opens at 9:30 p.m. and closes at 8 a.m. Behind him is Peter Teolis. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2020 8:40:05 PM

AMHERST — Rooms at a downtown hotel are being used to keep homeless individuals safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and offer them a more stable living space.

While Craig’s Doors: A Home Association Inc. moved the Craig’s Place seasonal shelter from the First Baptist Church to the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse in advance of its Nov. 1 opening, the agency was able to make 20 rooms available at the University Motor Lodge using a grant from the state’s Department of Housing and Community.

“Part of the beauty of the UML is that not only will people be in a safe warm environment, they will have their own room, which makes it an ideal site during COVID,” Gerry Weiss, president of the Craig’s Doors board, wrote in an email.

Weiss added that, as part of the arrangement with the state, anyone testing positive for COVID-19 at the hotel will be asked to move temporarily to a state-run quarantine site in Everett.

The addition of the hotel rooms gives Craig’s Doors the capacity to serve 34 individuals at a time, up from the 28 guests who could shelter overnight last year.

Mary Beth Ogulewicz, Amherst’s senior services director and staff liaison to the shelter, said the hotel rooms will be used mostly by women, elderly and populations most at risk from remaining unhoused during the cold-weather months.

“It provides a safer, warmer setting,” Ogulewicz said.

But there is also confidence that by providing the individual rooms, outcomes for the guests can be better. Both staff and representatives from other service organizations will be able to work with people longer and then get them to temporary or permanent housing even more rapidly, she said.

The meetinghouse is the site for 14 cots where meal preparation is taking place. But because a congregate setting, there is a chance of spread of COVID-19.

To keep individuals safe, including the 17 served on the first night, all are being tested by Dr. Susan Lowery, a local family medicine specialist, or Dr. Jessica Bossie of Health Services for the Homeless.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said everyone, including guests, staff and volunteers, is tested in advance, and all must have negative results to enter the church site.

“The last thing we want is to open a congregate shelter and see infection spread,” Bockelman said.

For the hotel rooms, the guests need either a negative test result or be awaiting results, Weiss said.

Weiss said as more guests are likely to be taken on as the weather gets colder and word of mouth spreads about the revamped operation, some people will be staying at both locations, and they will be able to be shuffled between them as necessary.

The meetinghouse space continues to hold potential for around-the-clock service as the weather deteriorates, something that wasn’t possible at the First Baptist Church.

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


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