Resouce fair: Tackling homelessness through networking

  • Some of the participants in the Western MA Homelessness Resource Fair for Providers held Monday at Holyoke Community College. ​​​​​​SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 6/11/2019 12:16:32 PM

Homelessness is an enormous but often hidden problem in our area, says state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton — but Monday morning, hundreds of people gathered to bring the issue to light at the Western MA Homelessness Resource Fair for Providers.

The resource fair, held at the Kittredge Center at Holyoke Community College, was organized by the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, which aims to prevent and end homelessness through a “housing first” approach that makes homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring.”

Monday’s event brought together more than 200 providers and state and local groups to exchange ideas and swap information to build a stronger support base across all four counties of western Massachusetts.

“This event is really about bringing together the resources to bear on the challenge across every sector, from mental health and veterans services to partnering with state legislators,” said Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness.

More than half a dozen local and state lawmakers attended Monday and were thanked by Schwartz for their work on Beacon Hill to end homelessness in the state. Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal spoke at the opening of the fair, followed by Jane Banks, assistant undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development.

“It’s been really great — there’s been a lot of networking and a lot of good information available,” said Mark Watkins, a coordinator with the SHINE Young Adult Housing Program at the Gándara Center in Holyoke. 

At Gándara, Watkins and his team make sure young people have essentials such as bus passes and food to eat, even teaching them how to cook.

At the resource fair, Watkins said it was helpful to learn about local programs he wasn’t aware of, including some services for mental health and domestic violence. He also talked to other providers about alternative ways to reach youth.

“It’s been wonderful — it’s really well-organized, and people here have the information we need,” said Susan Camacho, a provider with Behavioral Health Network, who was walking through the fair and gathering information about different resources to give to the employees she supervises.

Sabadosa, who attended last year, said the annual event has been a great way to connect with organizations that work in the district she represents and to learn about what they do. She said she’ll also be taking information back to her office to pass along to constituents.

She added that it’s important to “listen to the perspectives of people who are living this,” and said that she regularly talks to the local homeless population. She also listens to their feedback about gaps in services and where there could be improvements.

Representatives from state agencies, including the Commission Against Discrimination, said that when individuals do apply for housing, applicants with disabilities or those who are looking for subsidized Section 8 housing often face discrimination and that it’s important that organizations helping applicants are aware of anti-discrimination laws and how they can help.

“It’s great to get connected with organizations,” said Kristina Khoury, a trainer with the Commission Against Discrimination, “so that we can send people to get the advocacy they need.”

Last year at the event, there were workshops in addition to the resource fair; this year, Schwartz said, workshops would be held at other events so that attendees wouldn’t feel torn between wanting to connect with others and hearing pertinent information from the trainings.

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