State picks Hadley motel for homeless shelter; town prepares to accommodate 34 people placed at the Knights Inn

The Knights Inn at 208 Russell St. in Hadley has been selected by the state as a  supplemental shelter for unhoused Massachusetts families, with 34 individuals from four families recently placed there.

The Knights Inn at 208 Russell St. in Hadley has been selected by the state as a supplemental shelter for unhoused Massachusetts families, with 34 individuals from four families recently placed there. GOOGLE MAPS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 10-24-2023 5:21 PM

HADLEY — A Route 9 hotel is being turned into a supplemental shelter for unhoused Massachusetts families, with 34 individuals from four families recently placed at the Knights Inn, 208 Russell St., by the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

Just a week before state officials anticipate running out of space in the emergency shelter system for families experiencing homelessness, Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan announced Tuesday that Hadley officials learned at the end of last week that four families had moved into the Knights Inn.

While officials had been notified earlier in October about the likelihood, the actual move-in of families prompted Brennan to put together a task force to establish a structured way to provide for the basic needs of the people living there, ensure that families were cared for and that town officials had a holistic understanding of how to prepare to meet those needs.

Representatives from the town’s public safety departments, along with the building commissioner, the school superintendent, members of the Board of Health and Town Hall staff then met to prepare a communication process and identify resources, Brennan said.

This included the police department meeting with the National Guard to hear about potential stress points and concerns shared by other supplemental shelters across the state.

At the same time, several other department heads went directly to the site to perform routine fire and building safety inspections. The Knights Inn has been used previously to house adult guests served by Craig’s Doors, the Amherst-based agency.

Superintendent Annie McKenzie met with the families Tuesday to coordinate an orientation for the children and to learn more about their individual needs, and to answer questions. Brennan said of the 34 residents, 12 are believed to be school age.

Brennan said there are no direct costs for Hadley associated with the housing of the families, but departments are keeping track of any expenditures. The hope is that Gov. Maura Healey will release funds to reimburse municipalities for their expenses, she said.

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Meanwhile, the task force members also met with state officials to express their concerns and will continue to monitor the impact on Hadley resources, and at the same time make sure the families are cared for adequately during their transition to temporary housing.

The news of the arrival of unhoused families in Hadley comes as Healey has said the state’s emergency family shelter system has been expanding at an unsustainable rate to meet rising demand, driven by increasing numbers of newly arriving migrant families and slower exits of families in long-term emergency shelter stays. The state will not be able to accommodate more than 7,500 families, or approximately 24,000 individuals, numbers that could be reached by Nov. 1.

As of Oct. 16, there are nearly 7,000 families with children and pregnant women in emergency shelter, including newly arrived migrant families and longtime Massachusetts residents. About half of the individuals in emergency shelter are children.

While the experience may be new for Hadley, in June 41 families and more than 80 people began living at the Days Inn in Greenfield, a mix of Haitian immigrants from the Boston area, international refugees and families escaping domestic violence.

Healey has also announced several actions that her administration is taking ahead of this next phase of the emergency shelter system, including appointing Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice of Southampton as emergency assistance director and prioritizing helping families who have been in shelter long-term to exit into more permanent housing options.

Healey’s office said Monday that it will provide more details before Nov. 1 about what will happen to families turned away from shelter. But initially, it said, families will be assessed for emergency assistance eligibility and will receive a health and personal safety screening. If there is no capacity that night in the state shelter system, the Healey administration said families “will be placed on a waitlist maintained by our administration and will be provided information about shelter alternatives and community resources.”

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