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Homeless find space in shelters during week of freezing temps

This week’s frigid temperatures have brought a small handful of people each night to the doors of the Franklin County Emergency Shelter, and although the facility has a year-round waiting list, they are still accepted inside.

“We don’t turn anyone away, not when it’s like this,” said Jay Sacchetti, a spokesman for ServiceNet, which runs homeless shelters in Franklin County.

Friday marked the fourth day in a row that temperatures had stayed below freezing. That streak is likely to continue through the weekend — with projected highs of 24 today and 25 on Sunday — before warming at the start of next week.

Still, Franklin County has seen crueler winters — where temperatures have stayed below freezing for two weeks at a time and readings have been 10 degrees colder than this year’s lows.

When people show up at night to the door of the 20-bed emergency shelter in Montague City — where individuals wait for an open space, and then stay about 60 days on average — staff finds them a chair or a couch for them to stay on, said Sacchetti.

For most of the year, it isn’t possible to accept more than 20 occupants, he said. But in the winter months, when the conditions can be life-threatening, the staff will find a temporary place for people who need it.

“There’s a group of folks in every community that just choose to stay outside year-round,” said Sacchetti. “When the elements get too difficult, they know enough to find shelter.”

In the morning, staff will drive that small handful of people to Northampton, where ServiceNet will work to connect them with permanent housing or a temporary solution for the winter months, he said. There are two overflow ServiceNet shelters in Northampton.

In Greenfield, Peggy Rockwood, a social worker for the Greenfield Salvation Army worship and community center, arrives every morning at 7 a.m. to find two or three people waiting for her to open the doors and serve coffee.

“They’ll warm up, get something to eat and then put their head on the table and sleep,” said Rockwood. Some had stayed up the entire night to keep warm, she said.

Because the Franklin County Emergency Shelter is the only overnight shelter for individuals in the county, many homeless people have left the area for the winter to find places, like Springfield, that may have open shelter spaces, said Rockwood.

Others have been able to find space in the homes of family or friends, she said.

Earlier this week, a woman brought in a bag of winter supplies: several hats, mittens, scarves and socks. Within two days, they were all gone, said Rockwood.

She said the Salvation Army is always seeking donations of warm clothes and winter accessories. To contact the Greenfield office, call: 413-773-3154.

Colder winters in years past

It has been below freezing here since Tuesday, and the last two days have seen sub-zero temperatures as low as minus 3.

The cold streak will likely end, after a six-day stretch, on Monday. The projected high that day is 34, and on Tuesday it could get as warm as 48.

But as cold as this week has been, Franklin County has seen three winters in the past nine years with longer cold streaks and lower temperatures.

In 2005, temperatures were below freezing for 15 straight days, from Jan. 16 through Jan. 30, reaching as low as minus 13. Ten of those days saw sub-zero numbers, with four days seeing readings at least 10 degrees below zero.

Four years later, the county saw 13 days in a row below freezing, from Jan. 10 through Jan. 22. Three consecutive nights in that span saw double-digit readings below zero: minus 12, minus 12 and minus 11.

January 2011 featured two streaks of freezing temperatures: a 10-day run from Jan. 7 through Jan. 16, and a six-day one from Jan. 21 through Jan. 26. Temperatures reached as low as minus 12 that month.

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

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