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City of Greenfield found lacking in response to homeless plight

  • Greenfield Human Rights Commission member Lewis Metaxas and vice chairman Timothy Mosher discuss issues of homelessness at Monday night’s meeting, before members of the community like Greenfield Salvation Army Capt. Scott Peabody. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon



Recorder Staff
Monday, February 12, 2018

GREENFIELD — During a historic cold snap at the end of 2017, housing for the homeless was at a premium.

ServiceNet’s Wells Street shelter was filled to the brim with overflow, opening up to as many people as they could, without enough beds to satisfy the needs of the community. All the while, Greenfield’s Salvation Army put up about $1,600 to house people in the Days Inn, helping to shield them from those brutal temperatures.

“Where’s the city there?” Greenfield Human Rights Commission member Gregory Corcoran said at Monday night’s meeting. “That makes no sense. Maybe it’s because the city has been spoiled over the years because there’s so many good charity organizations in the area. But at some point, ownership has to be taken. Greenfield is not going to a place where anybody is going to be homeless. Not one person. It’s not that hard to accomplish but there has to be leadership that believes that.”

Corcoran and members of the commission urged the city and Mayor William Martin to have more concrete emergency plans for extreme weather, in an effort to help prevent the homeless from risking their life in those dire times.

In the first of a few months of serious talks, the Greenfield Human Rights Commission explored what resources the city currently has in place for the homeless, like shelters and meals, while also tossing out initial thoughts on how to progress toward ways to alleviate homelessness in the city, particularly during times of emergency like unusually cold weather.

One of the main questions of the discussion was why the city did not already have a plan in place to assist the service organizations like ServiceNet and the Salvation Army in times like these.

“The mayor should have some way to scoop people off the street and put them somewhere,” Vice Chairman Timothy Mosher said.

“What does not exist is a city policy. What also does not exist is a city-will to do something about a problem,” member Lewis Metaxas added.

Chairwoman Loreen Flockerzie reiterated to the commission they do not form policy, but they can get the conversation going and propose a recommendation to the city.

There was discussion over whether Greenfield High School could be used for a shelter in this case, in coordination with the American Red Cross — similar to other emergency situation, but which in other cases do typically bring in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money.

Salvation Army Captain Scott Peabody spoke about his organization’s efforts to aid the homeless in Greenfield, like the $1,600 he said they spent on housing for them from mid-November to late-December.

“Is it a huge issue? It’s a huge issue and we’re just trying to figure out how to combat it,” Peabody said. “I think there’s a way to put a dent in this.”

Peabody is also the current chief for the Salvation Army’s Chapman Street location, which serves hot breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday.

“We open the building at 7 a.m. We’re usually there around 6:30 to a quarter of. I put the coffee on and it’s a safe haven,” Peabody said. “We have people that are homeless that come there. We have put people, who to be honest with you, might be struggling and we help to sustain them.”

He continued: “Of course, crisis can come to anybody. I’ve had people who are donors who end up needing the food pantry.”

Other organizations like ServiceNet and Community Action, along with local churches, have been invited to join the commission in this ongoing discussion in the coming months. They will look to find some tangible solutions to propose to the town so that another winter can’t come around with people not having a place to go in the case of a weather emergency.

While the commission was aware that a lot of this discussion will point back to regulatory questions — where can emergency shelters go, who can hold them and with how many people — they wanted it to be clear that this is something that needs to be looked at closer.

“What is the regulatory authority and how do we meet that regulatory criteria quickly?” Mosher said. “You don’t necessarily need to put someone up for 90 days. It’s cold. If somebody dies outside of your church or my church. If they freeze to death there because they had no place to go — that’s where your emergency shelter comes in. This isn’t us postulating … this is human decency. ”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264