Homeless residents on Greenfield Common ordered off by Aug. 20

  • Homeless camping on the Greenfield Common with the Farmers Market on Court Square in late July. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2018 11:00:41 PM

GREENFIELD — Homeless residents have until Aug. 20 to leave the Greenfield Common following a Board of Health vote that the encampment on the common is against state regulations.

The residents that have been camping on the common, some since early last month, are being asked to leave as early as Friday when a cease and desist order telling them to leave the property is expected to be delivered.

The order comes as City Council expects to debate whether to give a later deadline for homeless residents to leave the common. Mayor William Martin soon expects to have a temporary housing plan for at least some of the residents.

Steven Adam — a Board of Health member who was named chairman of the board at the beginning of the meeting — said the encampment has caused conflicting opinions on the issue. While the encampment has become concerning, it has also put homelessness in the public eye.

“They are there legally from ordinances and bylaws. …But in my opinion, it’s gone on too long,” he said.

The board voted on the decisions after hearing from Martin, Police Chief Robert Haigh and others on the growing population on the common. Haigh and others have voiced concerns of public health.

Haigh said an unconfirmed case of bed bugs was reported by an unnamed ambulance service when it responded to the common this week. He also said a hypodermic needle was found in the trash.

Over the last several weeks, the Greenfield police’s call log shows reports of urination and defecation on city property. Arrests were made this week after two people were found drinking alcohol from an open container on the common.

“I’m not insensitive to the folks that are there, just looking at a bigger issue,” Haigh said.

Concerns of communicable diseases including hepatitis A and tuberculosis were also voiced.

Martin’s solution

The board made the decision after Martin said he has a possible solution for temporary housing in a former group home owned by Clinical & Support Options, a Greenfield nonprofit that provides mental health and other social services.

Martin said the agency could be offering the former group home and assistance to the city to house the homeless on the common. The building is currently vacant and Greenfield Building Inspector Mark Snow reported found no significant deficiencies.

“I did not see any real major violations when I went through … just needs a general clean up,” Snow said.

But Snow said Fire Chief Robert Strahan had questions of fire detection and that a health inspection of the building still had to take place.

Snow said the building was previously approved as a group home, which according to state regulations, could house between five and 18 people.

Martin said he believes the building could be approved and ready for homeless residents within the next two to three weeks.

In order to help facilitate the homeless moving off the common and into the temporary housing, Martin said the city will provide $9,000 to $11,000 to pay for a person to work with Salvation Army Capt. Scott Peabody. Peabody and the individual will work with those on the common one-on-one in what Martin called “shepherding” to find the appropriate services and options to help them.

Board rationale

The decision by the board was based at least partially on a determination that the tents on the common are considered temporary housing, according to the board.

Department of Public Health spokeswoman Ann Scales said via email that temporary housing, according to regulations: “means any tent, mobile dwelling unit or other structure used for human shelter which is designed to be transportable and which is not attached to the ground, to another structure, or to any utility system on the same premises for more than 30 days.”

And Scales said any temporary housing must get Board of Health approval.

Scales wrote the city would be the enforcing authority if there was a structure that violated the regulations, with fines ranging from $10 to $500. This would require the Board of Health to “have to file a complaint in court and proceed through a trial.”

Haigh said his department could trespass those on the common that do not obey the cease and desist order.

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