Craig’s Doors in Amherst may be forced to close early after governor freezes funding

  • In October, Craig’s Place manager Hayley Bolton, left, and staff member Tenee McGrath, right, practice setting up cots with interns Lesly Balanzar, second from left, and Suzie Wu, in preparation for the start of the season Nov. 1. The governor has frozen $200,000 in state funding for the shelter. Without the money, the shelter may be forced to close early. GAZETTE staff/jerrey roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2016 9:19:25 PM

AMHERST — Advocates for the town’s overnight homeless shelter are warning they’ll be forced to close early this winter if Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to freeze $200,000 in state money isn’t reversed.

The governor’s decision to halt the allocation for Craig’s Place has drawn the attention of the town’s legislative delegation including Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and outgoing state Rep. Ellen Story, both of whom are lobbying for the money to be released to the shelter. 

The 22-bed facility, located at First Baptist Church, 434 North Pleasant St., opened Nov. 1 and serves a safe place for guests to get out of the elements during the coldest months of the year. The shelter typically closes at the end of April, but without the state funding would have to shut its doors sometime between mid-December and the end of January, shelter officials said.

 “Without this being restored, or a huge influx of donations, we will be closing sometime this winter,” said Gerry Weiss, a member of the board of directors for shelter operator Craig’s Doors: A Home Association, Inc.

The shelter has been operating this month with money it has collected from donations and fundraisers, such as Shelter Sunday.

“We have used all funds we have that weren’t state funds to keep it running,” Weiss said.

The state earmark, which was supposed to support operations that run from Nov. 1 through April 30, is part of $45.5 million for homeless assistance programs in the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development’s $505.7 million budget for fiscal year 2017. The earmark for the shelter has been in place since the fiscal year 2015 budget when it was included by Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Story, D-Amherst.

Both Rosenberg and Story said Wednesday that they have spoken to Jay Ash, the secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, about this issue.

“It is on his front burner, he knows that this is a critical piece of funding, and he also understands that without it the program will not make it through the entire season,” Rosenberg said.

“He’s on it, I’m on it, Rep. Story is on it, and we’ll keep pushing,” Rosenberg said.

Story said she learned from Ash that he does not have the authority to release any earmarks until Dec. 15, though it won’t be his call whether this occurs or not. “It’s not his decision, so he doesn’t know what will happen,” Story said.

Story doesn’t buy Baker’s concerns that state revenues aren’t keeping up with expenses. “They are just crying poor,” Story said.

Rebekah Wilder, executive director of Craig’s Doors, said the agency has enough money in hand to run the shelter through mid-December, and, depending on cost-savings efforts it could implement, may be able to keep its doors open daily until the end of January.

“We are doing everything we can to stay open as long as we can,” Wilder said. “We can only do it with hope.”

The Amherst shelter and the Interfaith Winter Shelter at 43 Center St., Northampton, are the only two seasonal shelters for individuals in Hampshire County. Unlike its counterpart in Northampton, operated by ServiceNet, Craig’s Place is behavior-based, meaning that guests are welcome even if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Wilder said she wants to give confidence to the guests that the shelter will be there for them, observing many are vulnerable. “We don’t want them to be afraid,” Wilder said.

Weiss said it costs about $30,000 a month to keep the shelter open and work is being done to reduce costs, including a pledge from the church to not charge rent, cutting staff pay and bringing in more volunteers, eliminating coffee from breakfast and shutting down a trailer so money is not spent on heat and electricity.

“We can run it on less, but not a lot less,” Weiss said.

In addition to cutting back expenses, Craig’s Doors will solicit funds from the public.

“Craig’s Doors is doing everything we can to secure the full $200,000, as we try to secure alternative funding,” Wilder said.

Story said she is only aware of one other agency in the region affected by the freeze. The Holyoke-based Common Capital, formerly Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund, which provides loans to start-up companies and entrepreneurs, has not had its $200,000 released.

Because of the state commitment for the past three years, Craig’s Doors no longer seeks town funding as it had done in the past, including through the Community Development Block Grant program. Applications for this funding source, even if approved, wouldn’t provide money until fall 2017.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Amherst is committed to having a shelter to serve, though he is unsure how this will happen without the state piece of funding.

“We’ll work with the shelter to ensure services are available to people in need,” Bockelman said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

 




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