Northampton names director for Division of Community Care

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 03-20-2023 6:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city has found a leader for its fledgling new department that will soon provide alternative responses to some public safety calls.

Kristen Rhodes has been named director of the Division of Community Care, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Formally established last year, the DCC will provide multiple types of civilian responders to community needs as an alternative to a traditional public safety response.

According to the city’s website, the division’s mission is to address “racial and social inequities by building equitable, non-police, non-clinical responses for all while centering its most vulnerable community members in their struggles.”

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said she is excited to welcome Rhodes and looks forward to working with her to execute the planning over the last year by Meredith O’Leary, commissioner of city Department of Health and Human Services, and former implementation director Sean Donovan.

According to her LinkedIn page, Rhodes formerly worked as a program coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and a special education teacher in the Amherst public school system. She has worked in therapeutic crisis management and alternative care models, developing and implementing training and policies around person-centered and trauma-informed practices.

Rhodes received her master’s degree in education from Springfield College and bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in social services from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Her immediate goals for the division are hiring staff, engaging with the community, and establishing a community response team by the end of spring. In addition to Rhodes, the DCC will have four community responders. Training for the responders will take place this spring with a hoped-for launch of the pilot program in the summer.

“I am eager to put my expertise to work for the people of Northampton and to bring this much-needed, innovative service to the community,” said Rhodes in the release. “I have been inspired by the work of the Northampton Policing Review Commission and the thoughtful input received from stakeholders and community members who are collaborating with the DHHS and DCC.”

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The policing commission, in a March 2021 report, acknowledged racism as a “public health crisis” and advocated for the creation of an agency that could reimagine public safety in the wake of nationwide protests regarding police brutality against minority groups.

Once fully formed, the DCC is expected to be headquartered at the planned Community Resiliency Hub, a multipurpose community center at the former First Baptist Church designed to, among other things, provide shelter for vulnerable populations during climate emergencies and support the needs of the city’s homeless population.

O’Leary will introduce Rhodes, who started March 13 and is being paid $87,000 a year, to the City Council’s Services Subcommittee on April 4, and at the same time provide a general update on the DCC.

“We continue to move deliberately forward in our DCC planning as we fill this critical role with such a capable person,” O’Leary said. “I am confident that Northampton will benefit from Kristen’s years of experience working with community stakeholders that share a common goal of addressing racial and social inequities.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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