No easy answers for homeless in hotels
Rosenberg, Mark work to help homeless families, protect schools, town services
GREENFIELD — Sen. Stanley Rosenberg says the issue of homeless families living in two hotels in Greenfield, as well as hotels and motels across the state, is very complicated, has no easy answers and probably won’t to be resolved anytime soon.
“The state is working very hard on this issue,” said Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “It’s trying hard to reduce the number of homeless families across the state.”
In the meantime, 93 destitute families are living in two of the town’s three motels, which have been turned into de facto homeless shelters.
The Senate majority leader said a state Department of Housing and Community Development program to keep people in their homes or find them permanent housing did not work as well as was planned when it was first developed.
“Sometimes we run in place, but in this case we seem to be running backwards,” said Rosenberg, who met with other senators and the DHCD last week to discuss the crisis.
He said he does not understand or know the reason for the sudden surge in homeless families living in hotels.
“They ran out of space (in hotels) in the Boston area,” said Rosenberg. “The DHCD had to move people to other parts of the state, but they are working hard to move them back.”
Rosenberg said Greenfield and other parts of western Massachusetts are as far away as people can get from their homes in the eastern part of the state and that isn’t good for anyone.
“This is very difficult for these families,” said Rosenberg. “We want to get them back to their support systems, schools and housing, and we want to get them some stability.”
Rosenberg said the DHCD did not want to send homeless families from the Boston area to Greenfield, but had no other choice. When asked why so many were sent to Greenfield, Rosenberg said that they were sent where there was space.
He said he has not spoken with Greenfield’s mayor, but has been in contact with Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Robin Sherman and the Greenfield school system to discuss the issues surrounding homeless families in hotels and the sudden increase of students in the local schools.
The local housing and redevelopment authority has been working with social service agencies to help families buy diapers, food and clothing, and to get them to their medical appointments. The authority has been the liaison between the state and the homeless families and has worked with local social service agencies to make families more comfortable during their stay in hotel rooms.
Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said he doesn’t want to see Greenfield schools penalized financially or in any other way for educating students it didn’t plan for earlier in the year.
“I don’t want to see this issue affect Greenfield’s dropout rate when the students leave,” said Mark. “I also don’t want to see any adverse effects on the town.”
Currently, there are about 90 new students in Greenfield schools, but Mark said the bigger picture is the impact that living in hotel rooms is having on families.
“We’re doing all that we can right now, but we’re not sure what the answer is yet,” said Mark. “I’m talking with the town, the undersecretary and the Department of Education on this. Talking is as far as it has gotten at this point.”
“Permanent, affordable housing is extremely difficult to come by in Massachusetts and that’s one of the biggest problems we’re facing,” said Rosenberg. “Housing is expensive here and we need to find more affordable housing for these families. That’s not going to happen right away.”
Rosenberg said no timetable has been set for moving homeless families living in Greenfield hotels back to the towns where they came from over the past several weeks.
“The state is doing its best,” said Rosenberg.
He called the system “overrun” at this point.
The state is paying $82 per day per room for families to stay at the Days Inn on Colrain Road and the Quality Inn on the Mohawk Trail. That’s $2,460 per room per 30-day month, and some families need more than one room.
“With the economy as is, the nature of employment opportunities for the people who have lost their jobs, people running out of money and losing their benefits and homes, the state can only do what it is doing,” said Rosenberg. “This is going to take time.”
Rosenberg said he is hopeful that the state will eventually move families to where they should be, but said he has no idea when that will be.
“This problem is not going away until families can go home and there’s no specific date for that happening,” he said.