Agencies reach out to hotel homeless
GREENFIELD — Local social service agencies are working daily to meet the needs of 93 destitute families for whom the state has turned two of the town’s three motels into de facto homeless shelters.
And while state housing officials say they continue to seek more permanent shelter closer to the parts of the state from which the families came, no one is expressing optimism this “temporary” situation won’t last months.
“They’ve needed clothing and food and gas to get back and forth to work, school and medical appointments,” said Charity Day, director of the Housing Consumer Education Center of Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
The local housing authority has taken the lead as liaison between the state and the homeless families and is working with area service providers to make the families more comfortable.
Authority Executive Director Robin Sherman said once the state sends a family to either the Days Inn on Colrain Road, which is currently housing only homeless families, or the Quality Inn on the Mohawk Trail, which is housing homeless families and offering some guest rooms to travelers, the local housing and redevelopment authority takes over.
“The state is trying to ... get people into permanent housing, but that’s going to take time and no one knows how long,” said Sherman.
“We get the families oriented by sending people to meet with each of them, provide them with maps, brochures and information on public transportation, and make sure they are enrolling their children in schools,” said Sherman.
She said it is a difficult situation which no one likes, but it is the way it has to be for the time being.
She said depending on whether a family plans to stay in the area — some have been moved here from the eastern part of the state and plan to return some day — the authority encourages adult members of the families to look for jobs.
Some already have jobs and are traveling back and forth to the eastern part of the state each day, so they are in need of gas money, she said.
Day said the average homeless family living in Greenfield hotels is receiving $638 a month, plus the state is paying each family’s hotel bill at $82 per day per room — some families require two or three rooms.
“We’re doing as much as we can and so are the social service agencies we’re working with,” said Sherman. “We’re hoping people will step up and help with donations. The homeless families need food, diapers and other necessities.”
Sherman said the authority is also working with families to develop housing plans for each family.
“We’re helping some file requests to be moved back east, we’re helping others to relocate in Franklin County, and we’re sitting with families to look at their income and see what they might be able to afford,” said Sherman.
She said the state provides up to $4,000 a year to homeless families to help with first and last months’ rents and security deposit or with relocation costs.
“Sometimes that’s still not enough, though,” said Day, who said sometimes families can’t find affordable housing or have to be put on waiting lists.
“It can be very difficult for families to find safe, secure, affordable housing,” she said. “The majority of these families in Greenfield hotels are so grateful that they have our help for now.”
Motel Family Task Force
Franklin County Resource Network has created a Motel Family Task Force, a network of area social service agencies that are working together to provide help to the homeless families.
“We all put our heads together and make sure they are getting all of the services they need,” said network coordinator Holly Kosisky. “We have an entire binder of resources that we share with the families. It makes it easier for Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority to provide services and not duplicate them.”
Kosisky said the recent surge of homeless families in Greenfield hotels has made it more difficult to keep up, but every agency is doing its best.
“This is a statewide problem,” said Sherman. “It isn’t just limited to Greenfield.”
Day said the state’s goal is to eventually get all homeless families living in hotels located within 20 miles of where they work, go to school, or want to end up.
The authority visits the two Greenfield hotels every day, said Day.
“We have daily contact with families, schools and service providers,” she said.
Some of the agencies working with the authority include Community Action, the Center For Self-Reliance and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
Day said community meals have been held so that homeless families in hotels and service providers can meet to discuss any issues or problems.
“We’re talking about having a traveling food pantry visit the hotels during November and December, because many families have problems with transportation and getting around,” said Day. “The Food Bank also recently distributed a microwave healthy meals cookbook to the families, because that’s all they have to make meals in their rooms.”
Day said that only homeless families, not individuals or couples, are eligible to stay in hotels under the state program. She said the homeless family definition includes a couple expecting a baby. Children must be under the age of 21 to qualify.
Day said the biggest barrier for the homeless families is lack of income.
“They just aren’t making enough,” she said. “Some families have up to eight people in them and are making less than a living wage.”
Day said the state rule is that there must be one person 18 years old or older in each room. She said, for instance, there is a mother of five currently staying at one of the hotels and living in one room, because her children are all under the age of 18.
Sherman said when homeless families leave the local hotels, it is usually to go into a congregate shelter, stay with relatives or friends, or move into an affordable apartment.
“We’ve hired additional staff to deal with this and are doing our best with the recent surge,” said Day. “This has to be a community effort, though.”
The authority’s nonprofit affiliate Rural Development Inc. is currently receiving funding from United Way of Franklin County to assist the homeless families in Greenfield hotels with purchases like diapers and school supplies, said Sherman.
She said that the number of families receiving shelter in Greenfield has increased by more than 300 percent since June and RDI does not have the resources to meet all of their needs, so RDI is looking for help from the community.
To make a tax-deductible donation, a check may be mailed to: Rural Development Inc., 44 Canal Road, Turners Falls, MA 01376. Sherman said 100 percent of funds will be used to meet the basic needs of the local homeless families.
Donations of gift cards, food, gas cards, diapers, new winter coats and clothing for children, as well as other necessities, may be brought to RDI in Turners Falls.