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Homeless In Hotels

Living in limbo

Homeless families in Greenfield hotels find themselves being moved often by state

Recorder/David Rainville
Homeless families greet their children as they get off the school bus at the Quality Inn in Greenfield Thursday.

Recorder/David Rainville Homeless families greet their children as they get off the school bus at the Quality Inn in Greenfield Thursday.

GREENFIELD — “We owned a home in Attleboro, and now we’re living in a hotel.”

Danielle Kopiec, her husband and three of their children moved into transitional housing two years ago. They had an apartment in Dorchester until Oct. 7, when they were moved to the Quality Inn in Greenfield.

“I never would have signed up for HomeBASE if I knew we’d be living like this,” she said.

“We had a three-bedroom apartment in Dorchester for $1,400 a month,” said Kopiec. She said the family had to pay only $200 out of pocket, the rest covered by the state.

She was told that they were being moved because the state was running out of money to pay for their housing. Now, they’re staying at the Quality Inn and it’s costing the state much more than their apartment.

The state is paying $82 per night for each room rented to homeless families, according to Charity Day, director of the Housing Consumer Education Center of the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

That comes out to $2,460 per room for a 30-day month and some families require two or even three rooms.

Kopiec, her husband, and three of their children are all packed into a single room. Their oldest daughter is away at college.

The family used to have it much better.

They owned a house in Attleboro, but fell on hard times when Kopiec had a stroke and her husband left his job as a car dealer to care for her. He’d been there for 10 years, but since he left of his own free will, he can’t collect unemployment.

Without an income other than Kopiec’s disability check, their house was foreclosed on and the family signed up for HomeBASE.

That was two years ago, and they’ve regretted it ever since.

“We lived in the ghetto for two years in Dorchester. Every day I just hoped my kids didn’t get shot walking home from school,” said Kopiec.

She said they don’t feel much safer staying in a hotel with other homeless families.

It’s a madhouse, she said, with unattended children running rampant, and lots of “drama” among the adult population.

Her husband, who declined to give his name, said he’d like to find work, but is hesitant to look because of the family’s uncertain future.

“We don’t know where we’ll be living next week,” he said. He said he’s more than willing to pick up odd jobs around town, he just doesn’t want to start a job and have to leave because they’ve been transferred.

A steady income is the one thing keeping the family from finding a home, said Kopiec.

The HomeBASE program offers families a one-time payment of $4,000 to help them move into a new apartment.

“They keep trying to force that $4,000 down people’s throats,” said Kopiec.

Without a job to pay the rent going forward, though, Kopiec is afraid their family will end up on the street after a month or two.

For now, they’ll get by on food stamps, Kopiec’s disability check and welfare.

Kopiec said it’s hard for her and her family to ask for assistance.

“I’ve worked since I was 13,” she said. “We’ve never had to take assistance before.”

Even if they had an income, she said, they wouldn’t want to take the $4,000. They’d rather pay their own way.

“There are other families that need it more than we do,” she said.

They’ve got one advantage over many families at the two hotels, she said, because they have a car.

They’re not the only ones struggling with life in a Greenfield shelter. Kopiec and her family were given five days’ notice to vacate their apartment, but other families had much less time to pack up and move.

Jane, her husband and her four children had less than two hours to gather their belongings before they were relocated to Greenfield.

The family has been living at the Quality Inn for about a month now, along with dozens of other homeless families. It’s the fourth hotel they’ve lived in through the HomeBASE program since they lost their Chelsea home.

“I lost my apartment in June and I’ve been living in shelters ever since,” she said.

A victim of domestic violence, Jane asked that her real name not be used, afraid that her abuser may track her down. She did, however, want her story to be told.

Jane’s landlord evicted the family, citing nonpayment of rent, causing her to become ineligible for the housing vouchers she’d received for 16 years. Jane said that she had been told by the housing court not to pay the landlord because of an ongoing Board of Health investigation.

Since then, she’s been living in hotels wherever the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance puts the family.

Though Jane likes the town and would like to put down roots here, she said she’s also hesitant to look for a job. She’s afraid that her family will have to pack up and move again before she can get a foothold in Franklin County.

Jane lost her job as a medical assistant in March, months before she lost her home. She made good money, she said, earning $20 per hour with full benefits. She said she was let go by her employer because she had to take too much time off as she fought her ex for custody of the kids and took her landlord to court for alleged health code violations.

Jane and her husband have had several job prospects since they’ve been staying in shelters, only to have them vanish when the family was moved time and time again.

Jane and her husband are having a particularly hard time finding jobs because the family lost its only vehicle. If they were able to find a job, they’d have to rely on taxis, buses or their own two feet to get there.

Across the street, a “now hiring” sign stands at the Shell station, in clear view of the hotel. Jane could apply, but she doesn’t see the point of working a minimum-wage job.

“I can’t support my family by working at a gas station,” she said.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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