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Editorial: Communication key in emergency

Throwing a lifeline to Massachusetts families that find themselves homeless is how we want state government to react, swiftly and with compassion.

But unless there is clear communication between the state and the communities that play host to these new residents, it can create a situation that feels more like the state is handing off a problem rather than extending a helping hand.

And everyone can feel they’ve been left adrift, from the families that are navigating their own situation in what can be extremely unfamiliar surroundings to the community that welcomes them.

We don’t know how much of a heads up Greenfield got from the state about the influx of families it sent to two Greenfield hotels, but from last week’s Recorder story, we’d say not much. If there’s one thing we are comfortable saying is that Greenfield Mayor William Martin doesn’t use the word “crisis” lightly. Yet that’s how he chose to describe the sudden, emergency placement of some 60 families in Greenfield and the impact on the schools.

As Greenfield Public School Superintendent Susan Hollins said, “Every school system can surely absorb some students in homeless circumstances and would do so willingly. The number of students coming to Greenfield in such a short time with no pre-notice for planning and no funding is very challenging.”

And that’s part of the rub. In an area that continues to try to find solid economic footing, where there are budgetary constraints that have put pressure on existing programs and services, the unexpected addition of 50 to 100 students within the school system has a significant impact. Hollins: “people are relocated from their support systems and health care providers.”

Beyond the immediate impact on the schools, Martin also questions what kind of effect this will have on the educational data coming out of the Greenfield and the state’s analysis of those figures.

For Greenfield, these are legitimate questions and concerns.

Better communication from the state Department of Housing and Community Development with Greenfield would have gone a long way in preventing the misgivings and concerns that now exist. We’d also suggest that the DHCD should keep the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education informed about the placement of large number of families from one community to another.

Again, this isn’t a complaint about the state pulling families from the depths of homelessness.

But if we’re to serve as a lifeboat for the state’s homeless families, a timely message from the bridge would be in order ... we wouldn’t want the extra passengers to endanger our schools’ survival.

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