Editorial: Homeless shelters need our support

  • Money raised by University of Massachusetts Amherst students during the Shelter Sunday fund drive Oct. 15 awaits processing. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/7/2017 8:17:29 PM

It’s the time of year when many of us look forward to the comfort of holiday gatherings with family and friends. It’s also the season when many less fortunate people without permanent housing are forced to take refuge in emergency shelters.

The seasonal overnight shelters in Amherst and Northampton opened a week ago, and, as in the past, they are expected to be at or near capacity until they close again May 1. Jade Lovett is co-executive director of Craig’s Doors: A Home Association Inc., which operates the Craig’s Place shelter at the First Baptist Church in Amherst. As it prepared to open last week, she said, “I’m expecting the same sort of need for shelter. In terms of demand, with all the recent rain, when we open up it will be a welcome change from outdoor sites.”

Craig’s Place has 28 beds at 434 North Pleasant St. and is open from 9:30 p.m. to 8 a.m., except Sundays when it closes at 7 a.m. Dinner and breakfast are provided, and guests have access to medical services and a resource center in a trailer that is open in the church parking lot from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

There is no limit on stays at Craig’s Place, and staff at the shelter work to get long-term guests into permanent housing. “People here longer than a week are connected to services and potential housing options for them,” Lovett said.

Craig’s Place shelters people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so long as they are not deemed a danger to other guests, volunteers or staff. However, alcohol, drugs and paraphernalia such as needles are not allowed in the shelter.

The Interfaith Emergency Shelter at 43 Center St. in Northampton, which has 20 beds, is run by ServiceNet and the Friends of Hampshire County Homeless Individuals. It is open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., and guests — who must be sober when they are admitted — may stay for up to 30 days. Alcohol, drugs and related paraphernalia may not be brought into the shelter.

Dinner and breakfast are served, and ServiceNet operates a resource center during the day at the same address. It helps people who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness find jobs and housing and connect with other services, including treatment for addiction and mental health counseling.

Just as demand remains high for beds in year-round shelters such as the 21-bed Grove Street Inn in Northampton, the need for emergency shelters during cold-weather months has not abated. The Interfaith Shelter in Northampton resulted from an appeal by then-mayor Mary Ford in 1994 to local churches after a homeless man, unable to stay at the Grove Street Inn because it was full, froze to death on the railroad tracks. Seven churches responded by rotating the responsibility for housing and feeding homeless people during the winter until a permanent site for the shelter was found.

Though the rate of homelessness has declined gradually during the last decade nationwide, the numbers remain alarmingly high in many states, including Massachusetts. The National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C., reports that the national rate of homelessness was 17.7 per 10,000 people in 2015, based on the most recent federal data. However, the rate in Massachusetts was nearly double that at 31.3 per 10,000 people.

In its 2016 report on “The State of Homelessness in America,” the alliance suggests that since the Great Recession, “the recovery of the housing market is making housing even more difficult to afford than earlier in the recovery when rents remained lower. Simultaneously, many low-income assistance programs are facing federal spending cuts and caps. The homeless assistance system is doing what it can to serve those in the country with the most desperate housing needs, but the federal government should prioritize investment in affordable housing and other efforts to improve economic conditions for low-income populations.”

Until that happens, the safety net depends on generosity by many of us who can afford to donate money or volunteer time in support of the emergency shelters so there is never again a tragedy like the one that occurred 23 years ago on the railroad tracks in Northampton. No one should be left to fend alone in the cold.

Information about donating to the shelters is available online at www.servicenet.org/donate/ and www.craigsdoors.org/donate.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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