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Homeless In Hotels

State moving some homeless out of hotels

GREENFIELD — State officials moved 13 homeless families from eastern Massachusetts out of two Greenfield hotels on Friday — a sign that the plan to return families to their original communities may be working.

There are now 79 families staying at the Quality Inn on the Mohawk Trail and the Days Inn on Colrain Road, said Matthew Sheaff, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

He said that the state will only place new homeless families from Greenfield and its surrounding communities in the two hotels, an indication that the number of families should continue to decrease in the coming weeks. Shelters around the Boston area have been expanded to support families from the eastern part of the state, he said.

A sudden and unexplained statewide surge of homeless families this summer led the state to send families wherever they could find temporary hotel space. Of the 53 hotels currently participating in the program, nine are along the Interstate 91 belt, including two in Greenfield.

School officials, who struggled to keep up with the unexpected influx of new students, say that the situation is now under control.

There were 96 homeless students enrolled in the Greenfield schools as of Friday morning and the department was sending 16 down to Springfield-area schools by bus each day. Three families were commuting east daily so that parents could continue their jobs and that students could stay enrolled in their home schools.

Officials from the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority now believe that all students living in the Greenfield hotels are currently enrolled in school somewhere in the state.

Greenfield school leaders hired two elementary school teachers and identified other staff positions that they are working on filling now. That list includes three special education paraprofessionals and a number of part-time positions: tutors, language translators and teachers, a social worker and an additional elementary school secretary.

Superintendent Susan Hollins said that the two new teachers (one for third grade and one for a combined kindergarten and first grade class) will work in Newton Elementary School, which is geographically closest to the two hotels.

Administrators, teachers and parents have welcomed in new students there, but were concerned about growing class sizes. The new hires will solve this, said Hollins, as there are now about 20 students in each class.

William Bazyk, the department’s special education director and homeless education liaison, said that after weeks of being overwhelmed, school officials “definitely have a handle on it now.”

But still, the temporary nature of these families’ stay in Greenfield presents some challenges for staff. School officials will track down student records from their past schools, only to have them gone the next day without notice or warning. It’s difficult to know if the students are just absent for the day or have actually left the area, they said.

That’s hard on the families, too, said Hollins. Students have been forced to leave their homes and enter the Greenfield schools, only to have to adjust again to a new location.

School officials are still analyzing transportation costs but said that Greenfield is paying about $10,000 a month for a bus that sends students down to their Springfield-area schools. Those towns are also contributing to the cost of the bus, said Bazyk.

Mayor William Martin, chairman of the School Committee, said that Greenfield is tracking its expenditures and plans to apply for state aid. He said the town’s state delegates, Rep. Paul Mark and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, have had discussions with department of education officials to ensure that the school department is not penalized when the students leave Greenfield.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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