Northampton sets up lockers for homeless

  • Storage lockers for the homeless population in the E.J. Gare Parking Garage in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Storage lockers for the homeless population in the E.J. Gare Parking Garage in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2021 7:49:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Lee Anderson cooks meals at Manna Community Kitchen, and sometimes he would notice that someone hadn’t come for a few days.

“I’d say, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you in a long time.’ The answer was, ‘Well, sometimes I’m not hungry enough to risk leaving my camp. If I leave it, I risk someone stealing my things or just vandalizing it.’”

Anderson added, “Every day that I work this program, I find more realities that my friends that we work with and feed have to live with that I just never imagined would be an issue.”

A new initiative aims to help provide storage space to people experiencing homelessness. Twenty-four gray lockers secured with keypads have been installed inside the entrance to the E.J. Gare Parking Garage, and will be be managed by Manna.

When the city proposed the idea, “We kind of jumped at it,” said Anderson, who is Manna’s treasurer. “We’re definitely trying to do as much as we possibly can for the flock out there that’s left behind sometimes.”

He’s hoping the lockers will soon be in use, and that it’s easy for people to request and access one. “I will work my damnedest (to see) that it will be a simple thing,” Anderson said.

The recommendation for downtown storage came from the Mayor’s Panhandling Work Group, which formed in 2017 and released a report in 2019. Although no one in the work group was experiencing homelessness, the group interviewed people who panhandle, and Narkewicz held a follow-up meeting with people experiencing homelessness to get their feedback on recommendations made in a draft of the report.

Storage downtown “was the most requested item during the session,” according to the report. “It is emotionally and physically draining for people to lug their belongings around all day. It precludes their ability to accept any additional clothing or food because they are simply unable to cart more around.”

Narkewicz recalled the discussion with homeless people. “They described the challenge of trying to secure and carry around essentially all of their worldly possessions,” he said. People “described trying to hide things in bushes or other places and having things stolen.”

The lockers cost about $3,800, and some of the cost will be paid for with funds people donated to the city to support homeless people when the city was setting up an emergency shelter, according to Narkewicz.

“We’ve actually used some of those funds to make this purchase, which again I think is in line with trying to support our houseless community and provide this important resource for them,” he said.

The parking garage may not be the long-term home for the storage lockers. “I view this as sort of a temporary location for the lockers. I think ultimately our goal would be to have them be part of the future community resilience hub that we’re working on,” Narkewicz said, noting that the lockers are portable.

A location has not been finalized for the resilience hub, Narkewicz said, and the project is his “number one final priority as mayor.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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