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How do you ‘stay at home’ when you have no home?  

  • Paul Chandler sleeps near First Churches of Northampton. He sleeps outside most nights. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he spent a lot of time at Forbes Library when it was open. “It’s my social life — they are the most compassionate people on the planet,” he said. The hardest part about being homeless during the public health crisis, other than Forbes being closed, is not having access to bathrooms. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Christian Helman, a resident of Northampton for the past 25 years, has held various jobs in the area and has been homeless since November of 2017. He talks about how the novel coronavirus has impacted his daily life. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tree with his dog, Annie, talks about how the COVID-19 virus has affected his daily life being homeless in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Christian Helman, a resident of Northampton for the past 25 years, has held various jobs in the area and has been homeless since November of 2017. He talks about how the novel coronavirus has impacted his daily life. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maxiums Victoria Jayne, 30, standing under the bridge by the Round House parking lot where tents are set up, talks about how the COVID-19 virus has affected her life being homeless in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maxiums Victoria Jayne, 30, standing under the bridge by the Round House parking lot where tents are set up, talks about how the COVID-19 virus has affected her life being homeless in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tree, with his dog, Annie, talks about how the COVID-19 virus has affected his life being homeless in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maxiums Victoria Jayne, 30, standing under the bridge by the Round House parking lot where tents are set up, talks about how the COVID-19 virus has affected her life being homeless in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Paul Chandler sleeps near First Churches of Northampton. He sleeps outside most nights. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he spent a lot of time at Forbes Library when it was open. “It’s my social life — they are the most compassionate people on the planet,” he said. The hardest part about being homeless during the public health crisis, other than Forbes being closed, is not having access to bathrooms. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A trailer from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Emergency Shelter Support Unit was parked outside the Northampton High School gymnasium on Saturday morning, March 28, 2020. A new 70-cot shelter is ready for occupancy at the high school, according to a release from United Way of Hampshire County on Friday calling for volunteers to staff it. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A trailer from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Emergency Shelter Support Unit was parked outside the Northampton High School gymnasium on Saturday morning, March 28, 2020. A new 70-cot shelter is ready for occupancy at the high school, according to a release from United Way of Hampshire County on Friday calling for volunteers to staff it. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Gary Bell talks about how the COVID-19 virus is impacting him and other people who are homeless and finding shelter at Craig’s Place in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gary Bell and Christina Beam at Craig’s Place, a homeless shelter in Amherst, talk about how the COVID-19 virus is impacting their lives. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gary Bell and Christina Beam at Craig’s Place, a homeless shelter in Amherst, talk about how the COVID-19 virus is impacting their lives. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • William Stella waits for the doors to open at Craig’s Place, a 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. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gary Bell and Christina Beam at Craig’s Place, a homeless shelter in Amherst, talk about how the COVID-19 virus is impacting their lives. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • After having his temperature taken before entering Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst, JD Edwards settles in for dinner near his cot where he will sleep for the night. The shelter closes at 8 a.m. and reopens at 9:30 p.m. He is on the phone being interviewed by the Gazette reporter. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gary Bell and Christina Beam talk about how the COVID-19 virus is impacting their lives while eating dinner at Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant, at Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst, talks to Gary Bell and Christina Beam as they eat dinner. When the shelter opens at 9:30 p.m., Oborne talks to those waiting to get in, takes their temperature and if they are symptom-free allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. Behind them is Joe Bishop. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • William Stella makes the bed 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. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • 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

  • Zane Venne, a homeless man in Amherst, at Craig’s Place Friday night March 27, 2020. The shelter opens at 9:30 p.m. Before being admitted into the shelter, each person’s temperature is taken. If they have no symptoms, they are then allowed in for dinner and a place to sleep. The shelter closes at 8 a.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant, takes the temperature of JD Edwards before admitting him into Craig's Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst. Oborne talks to each person, takes their temperature and then allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. The shelter closes at 8 a.m. and reopens at 9:30 p.m.   STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • After having his temperature taken before entering Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst, Joe Bishop settles in for dinner on his cot where he will sleep for the night. The shelter closes at 8 a.m. and reopens at 9:30 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Zane Venne, and Joe Bishop eat dinner at Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst, Friday night March 27, 2020. The shelter opens at 9:30 p.m. Each person’s temperature is taken before they can enter. If they have no symptoms they are allowed in for dinner and a place to sleep. The shelter closes at 8 a.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • After having his temperature taken before entering Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst, Joe Bishop settles in for dinner on his cot where he will sleep for the night. The shelter closes at 8 a.m. and reopens at 9:30 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant, takes the temperature of Joe Bishop before admitting him into Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst. Oborne talks to each person, takes their temperature and then allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. The shelter closes at 8:00 a.m. and reopens at 9:30 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant, takes the temperature of Theo Carter before allowing him into Craig’s Place shelter in Amherst, Friday. Oborne talks to each person, takes their temperature and then allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. The shelter then closes at 8 a.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant, listens to Joel Perry’s lungs before admitting him into Craig’s Place, the homeless shelter in Amherst. Oborne talks to each person, takes their temperature and then allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. The shelter closes at 8 a.m. and reopens at 9:30 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant, asks people waiting to enter Craig’s Place to please stand 6 feet apart while they wait for the doors to open at 9:30 p.m. Friday. Once they are open, Oborne talks to each person, takes their temperature and then allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jake Parla, an employee of Craig’s Doors, wipes down cots in the women’s sleeping quarters at Craig’s Place in Amherst, Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant, checks in with Theo Carter after taking his temperature before allowing him into Craig’s Place shelter in Amherst, Friday. Oborne talks to each person, takes their temperature and then allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. The shelter then closes at 8:00 a.m. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kammille Oborne, a PA, asks people waiting to enter Craig’s Place to please stand 6 feet apart while they wait for the doors to open at 9:30 p.m. Friday. Once they are open, Oborne talks to each person, takes their temperature and then allows them in for dinner and a place to sleep. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joel Perry waits for the doors to open at Craig’s Place in Amherst, Friday. The doors open at 9:30 p.m. Kammille Oborne, a PA, checks in and takes everyone’s temperature. If they have no symptoms, they are admitted for dinner and a place to sleep. At 8 a.m., the shelter closes for the day. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/30/2020 5:19:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Paul Chandler sleeps outside most nights and often spends time at Forbes Library. Since the library closed on March 16 due to COVID-19 concerns, Chandler has had a hard time. He misses the space — and the staff. “It’s my social life — they are the most compassionate people on the planet,” he said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all nonessential businesses to close and issued an advisory for state residents “to stay home and limit all unnecessary activities.”

But for those without a home, that is not an easy order to follow.

Like Chandler, Christian Helman used to spend time at the library, he said, while sitting outside Thornes Marketplace. “Before the coronavirus, a lot of us hung out at Haymarket,” he said, referencing the Main Street cafe. Now, he said, that’s not possible.

Another effect of downtown shutdowns: It’s harder for those experiencing homelessness to charge their phones and find bathrooms, said a man named Tree, who declined to give his last name, while sitting on the steps of City Hall with his dog, Annie. Northampton recently put port-a-potties in the parking lot behind Pulaski Park after many public buildings closed, but finding a restroom is still a problem for many people experiencing homelessness. 

“It’s just different because you can’t find one place to go to the bathroom,” said Christina Beam, who goes by Chrissy, late Friday night at Craig’s Place, a shelter in Amherst. Her fiance, Gary Bell, said Craig’s Place is “the best shelter I’ve ever been to.” They are not homeless, Bell said, but “currently seeking residence … We’re trying to put our lives back together.”

The lack of places to sit, rest and stay warm takes a physical toll. Kammille Oborne, a physician assistant volunteering at Craig’s Place, has been seeing people with health issues related to constant standing. “Since there are so few not-freezing cold spaces for people to sit down, they are literally standing from 7 or 8 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night,” she said. Without reliable places to go to the bathroom, she’s seeing some people limit their fluid intake, which causes other problems. “Now we have severe problems with bowels,” she said, “and it’s just really hard.”

Several people experiencing homelessness who spoke to the Gazette mentioned being poorly treated by others. People are typically aloof or rude anyway, said Maxiums Victoria Jayne, but now, “it’s definitely exponentially worse.”

“It’s like they are using it as a pass to be worse,” Jayne, 30, said. “It’s really hard out here. We’re already treated badly enough.”

Some homeless people have felt shunned, said Gerry Weiss, president of the board of directors of Craig’s Doors, the organization that runs Craig’s Place.

“It’s unfortunate and, really, it’s unnecessary,” he said.  

Shelter protocols 

Every night at Craig’s Place, Oborne screens guests by taking their temperatures and talking to each individual. 

“She checks them very thoroughly — to the extent that you can in a hallway,” said Kevin Noonan, the director of Craig’s Doors. “It’s been a godsend to have her.” He added that they are looking for more volunteer medical providers in the evenings so that Oborne can take time off. 

“I have not seen anybody that I was truly concerned had COVID,” Oborne said on Friday.

“I really feel that in many ways this population is safer,” she added. “This is a population that people have kept six feet away from forever.” She’s concerned about the health of the people she sees at the shelter, as “many of them are really sick” and may be more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

If someone does test positive, the shelter won’t be able to continue at its current location, Noonan said Friday. What would happen is unclear, and he said he has been in contact with the town.

“We’re working to finalize our contingency plans,” Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said Monday, adding that the town is in contact with Craig’s Doors. “We’ve been working on those plans for the last number of days. We have things in place. At this time, I can’t go into great detail.”

The Amherst shelter has seen an uptick in the number of people seeking beds, Noonan said. The number of women has roughly doubled. Noonan suspects the increase is because some people had temporary living arrangements, such as a couch to sleep on, that are no longer available because people are practicing social distancing.

The Amherst shelter needs personal protective equipment, including gloves, and supplies such as hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. “We don’t even have masks,” Noonan said. “It’s just up to the individual staff members if they can find it somewhere.”

Shelter cots have been rearranged so that there are six feet between everyone’s heads, and cleaning happens regularly, Noonan said. 

Still, “There’s not much space for social distancing,” said William Stella, who has been staying at the shelter over the winter and early spring. He worries that if one person were to get the virus, it would spread quickly. “I have a mask and everything,” he said. “I sleep with my covers over my face.”

Others were not worried. “I have no fear,” said JD Edwards while at Craig’s Place on Friday evening. “I’ve been through so much in the last 12 years …. I’m not afraid of it.”

In Northampton, the city announced Friday that it’s looking for volunteers for a 70-cot shelter at Northampton High School. “The goal is to close our two local shelters and transition the healthy to a new, larger shelter at NHS,” Mayor David Narkewicz, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, said in a text Monday. The opening day and time is not yet determined, and the city is still working out final logistics, he said.

ServiceNet will be staffing the shelter, said Amy Timmins, vice president of community relations for the organization, which oversees two Northampton shelters, the Grove Street Inn and the Interfaith Shelter. 

“The staff and the guests at the shelter are all following the recommended guidelines from the Department of Public Health regarding hand washing, hand sanitizing, covering coughs and continual cleaning of the shelters,” she said.

Like Craig’s Place, the Northampton shelters screen guests. “We are monitoring to see if they exhibit any symptoms, such as fever,” she said. “If someone does have symptoms we will give them a mask and isolate them as best we can while we contact health services for the homeless.”




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