Resources for homeless gear up as Arctic blast descends on region

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    Jess Tilley, a harm reduction employee at Manna, helps Johnny Mongeau pack warm clothes and blankets in a bag for him to take back to his car where he sleeps. Mongeau is hoping to get into a shelter Tuesday night, "Being my age I gotta be warm, a few extra blankets will help," he said. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

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    Jess Tilley, a harm reduction employee at Manna, helps Daniel Buscemi find the right size thermals while he waits for his clothes to finish washing and drying in the Interim Resilience Hub at St. John's Episcopal Church in Northampton. Buscemi, who has been in living in a tent, said " I just hunker down, don't get dehydrated and eat enough. It has not been fun." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jess Tilley, a harm reduction employee at MANNA, helps Johnny Mongeau pack warm clothes and blankets in a bag for him to take back to his car where he sleeps. Mongeau is hoping to get into a shelter Tuesday night, when temperatures are expected to fall to around zero degrees. “Being my age, I gotta be warm. A few extra blankets will help,” he said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

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    Jess Tilley, a harm reduction employee at Manna, helps Adam Mcavoy find the right size thermals while he waits for his clothes to finish washing and drying in the Interim Resilience Hub at St. John's Episcopal Church in Northampton. "We had a stack of blankets but we can't keep them on the shelf," said Tilley.. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

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    Jess Tilley, a harm reduction employee at Manna, helps Johnny Mongeau pack warm clothes and blankets in a bag for him to take back to his car where he sleeps. Mongeau is hoping to get into a shelter Tuesday night, "Being my age I gotta be warm, a few extra blankets will help," he said. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2022 8:34:02 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 8:33:09 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As a cold wave bears down on the Pioneer Valley, the homeless population and those who serve them are preparing for conditions that can end lives.

“This is killing weather,” said KB McConnell, founder and executive director of the harm reduction nonprofit Nothing But Kindness.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature will barely get out of the single digits during the day Tuesday, with a low of 6 at night in Northampton. Monday night’s low was forecast to be around 4 degrees.

Jess Tilley is a harm reduction worker at MANNA Community Center, which is based at St. John’s Church at 48 Elm St. Tilley is also a founder of and works for the organization HRH413, which also serves the homeless population.

Tilley said the first goal with this cold weather is to get people into shelter.

Lee Anderson, the treasurer for MANNA, said Monday afternoon that ServiceNet will not be turning anyone away from its shelters for 48 hours. ServiceNet’s cold weather shelter is located at First Churches, and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anderson also said that Craig’s Doors in Amherst has funds for hotel rooms available.

The community room in the police station is another warming center in the city, which will be open to the public from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday and Tuesday night this week.

“We worked in conjunction with the mayor’s office,” said Police Chief Jody Kasper.

The lobby of the police station will also be available for people to warm themselves 24/7 through Wednesday afternoon.

MANNA Community Center is yet another place where people can get warm, and it is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In Easthampton, the food pantry of the Easthampton Community Center will be open on Monday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and 4 to 7 p.m. on those same days.

For those still sleeping in tents and other structures outside, Tilley said that wearing layers of clothing is important, including clothing close to the skin. She also said the use of multiple blankets is helpful for retaining body heat.

Tilley advised that people camp near one another, and use tarps to keep water and snow off tents. She also said that moving around, even when inside a tent, is helpful, and said that using kerosene heaters and candles in tents is not safe.

Another reason why Tilley advised people to camp together is because of vandalism, noting that a tent was moved to the bike path on Christmas Eve and burned.

“That is the kind of neighbors we have in Northampton,” Tilley said.

She also said this wasn’t the first time a tent was vandalized.

Daniel Buscemi is sleeping in a tent within city limits, but he has never done so in temperatures as cold as this cold spell.

“I’m going to make sure that I have everything that I need,” Buscemi said, on preparing for the cold spell. “I’ve got a bunch of blankets, I’ve got a sleeping bag that’s good to zero degrees. I’m going to make sure that I layer up, stay hydrated and try to get as much food in my stomach.”

He also said that he doesn’t have a Plan B.

“I can’t afford anything else,” he said.

Kowboy is another person camping in this freezing weather, doing so in a Humanity Pod — a bicycle-pulled camper pod.

“I hope I make it through the night,” he said, on the cold front, before adding, “I’ll be all right.”

Kowboy grew up in Northampton, but this is his first winter in Massachusetts in 31 years.

MANNA distributes tents, blankets and clothing among other items. It is also looking for donations of these items, and has a particular need for men’s clothing, sleeping bags and tents.

“We need winter jackets for men,” Tilley said.

The organization is also looking for volunteers.

Tilley noted that people can also grab more than one blanket, and that anyone who needs MANNA’s services can access them — not just the homeless.

HRH413 can be contacted at 413-313-8143. It serves the homeless, although not exclusively, and has expertise in helping sex workers and those who use substances.

McConnell works alongside Tilley at MANNA Community Center, and he noted how he was once homeless in Northampton during the winter.

“I know what that feels like,” he said.

Last year McConnell spent several days sleeping in a tent with the homeless community, and he plans on sleeping in a tent alongside them this January as well.

Tilley said that she’s seen an increase in those being helped by HRH413 and MANNA in response to the incoming cold wave. She also said that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic there’s been a spike in the use of MANNA’s services, and she said that there are not enough shelter beds in the area.

“If I had my way, I wish we had a shelter here,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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