Greenfield mayor calls for emergency city council meeting to address homelessness

  • Homeless camp on the Greenfield Common with the Farmers Market. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Homeless residents living on the Greenfield Common coexist with the weekly farmer's market on Saturday morning, July 28, 2018. Recorder Staff/Melina Bourdeau

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2018 4:44:10 PM

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin has called on the City Council to hold an emergency meeting Thursday to address the growing homeless population on the Greenfield Common.

Martin scheduled the meeting as the “tent town” on the common continues to grow and concerns have been voiced about safety and equal access to the public land. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street.

Martin said he scheduled the emergency meeting “because of the accelerated use of the common” and felt that “we can’t wait until later in August” when the City Council is next scheduled to meet. The Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 15.

“This is an emergency situation and an emergency meeting is appropriate,” City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud said via text.

The city has witnessed a growing number of homeless individuals camping on the common for a couple of months now. There were about 10 tents on the common Tuesday morning, along with tarps covering coolers and other provisions.

Renaud said with cold weather eventually coming, “we need permanent solutions worked out now.”

Martin’s emergency meeting agenda includes a motion to change an ordinance that allows the common to be occupied at all times of the day.

Martin said if councilors make changes, his office may then be able to address the issue. At present, parks have hours of admission that can be enforced by police, but the common and conservation lands are always open to the public.

Martin said there are several reasons why the problem should be addressed now.

“I’ve heard that the Town Common, if people are permanently there, then it’s not everyone’s common,” Martin said. “People are coming in and saying they don’t feel safe. I think that’s an issue.”

On Saturday, the Greenfield Farmers Market shared the common with the homeless camp. Although the market usually fills the common and Court Square, organizers and vendors did not complain about the arrangement. Some nearby merchants have said they haven’t been bothered by the homeless campers, while others worry about the impact on the downtown’s image as city officials seek to make downtown Greenfield a destination for entertainment and dining.

Martin said he believes complaints about sanitation and trespassing made by downtown businesses are related to the homeless residents on the common.

The mayor said the only suggestion by a councilor so far has been from Isaac Mass. Mass proposed moving the homeless encampment to the former Wedgewood Gardens property on Kimball Drive off Colrain Street. The site was formerly a mobile home park but was bought by the city following flooding about 10 years ago. Martin said that proposal isn’t practical due to what’s necessary to make the site useable before the winter as well as issues with safety and frequent flooding.

He said the site would take time to get ready due to a dearth of city inspectors and because the site would have to go through an approval process of several commissions in the city, including the Conservation Commission.

“I don’t think it would be approved by anybody,” he said.

Yet, at the same time, none of those approvals or inspections have been sought for the encampment on the common.

Martin said his staff is looking for other potential sites for temporary encampments or shelters and that he has identified a possible source of funding. According to Martin, the city has about $120,000 available in Community Development Block Grant money that could be used for a project.

The funds come from money paid back through previous projects funded by the Community Development Block Grant program in Greenfield.

When asked about putting money toward homelessness in the city’s budget for next fiscal year Martin said he hasn’t yet considered it.

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