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Homeless In Hotels

Salvation Army, food pantry stretched

Increase in homeless means unprecedented local need

GREENFIELD — The recent surge of homeless families into Greenfield hotels has put a strain on some local service agencies, especially food pantries, but not enough for any of them to turn people away.

“We have to worry about what these families need now and how much it’s costing us later,” said Capt. Daniel Brunelle, known to many as Capt. Dan of the Salvation Army. “We’ve served an extra 55 families just in the last month or so.”

Brunelle said 55 families, which translates to more than 125 individuals, have applied for and received assistance from the Salvation Army on Chapman Street.

“We’ve provided them with food, though that has been difficult because of the limitations in hotel rooms,” he said. “They can only cook with microwaves and they have small refrigerators.”

A surge of homeless in Massachusetts has led the state government to convert two of the town’s three motels into de facto homeless shelters for an indefinite time. Many of the families are from the Boston metro area and have been cut off from job prospects and family and social networks.

Brunelle said the Salvation Army also recently provided 125 homeless individuals in hotels with vouchers to get clothes at the Salvation Army store on Hope Street. He said the Salvation Army typically provides about 25 vouchers in a month, but in October went over that number by 100 or more.

“Some families, a few, show up for our daily meals,” he said. “It’s a long way to walk and most of them don’t have transportation.”

He said the Salvation Army has also provided some games so that children have something to do after school and on weekends.

“We’ve invited families to apply for Christmas help, too,” said Brunelle.

He said the Salvation Army receives funding in several ways: its kettle drive brings in about 20 percent of its funding, the United Way provides about 8 percent of its total for its daily meals program, and about 10 percent comes from member dues.

The rest, he said, comes from donations of money, as well as in-kind donations of food, clothing and other items.

“We’re going to have to just try to make up what we’re overspending now during some of our future campaigns,” said Brunelle. “These things have a way of working themselves out.”

He said individuals, schools and businesses donate to the Salvation Army on a regular basis.

Brunelle said that the Salvation Army has helped homeless families in hotels in the past, but never this many at one time.

Brunelle said people can make donations in-kind by bringing them to the Salvation Army at 72 Chapman St. He said monetary donations may be made to: The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 346, Greenfield, MA 01302-0346.

Greenfield food pantry

Dino Schnelle, coordinator of Community Action’s Center for Self-Reliance food pantry, said the agency is keeping up, but the latest surge has put a strain on its budget.

“We’re currently helping 183 individuals who are living in the hotels,” said Schnelle. “We had 10 new families in October alone. It’s definitely affecting us, but we will get through it.”

Schnelle said the center has been serving about 500 families a month for the past three years, and while that number hasn’t really increased, the number of people in each family has. For instance, one woman came looking for help and there were nine people in her family sharing two hotel rooms. So, some families need more than others.

“We’ve had to go out and buy items that we didn’t stock on the shelves,” said Schnelle. “These people have to have things like canned soup, canned vegetables and pre-made spaghetti sauce. They’re limited in what they can make for their families, so I’ve had to make sure there’s plenty of peanut butter on the shelves, as well as things that can be cooked in a microwave.”

Schnelle said they can’t take a lot of produce, because hotel refrigerators are so small.

“Six months ago, we had three homeless families from hotels seeking our services, compared to the 45 or 50 today,” said Schnelle. “We’re keeping up with it, but it’s not easy.”

He said his food budget is typically between $800 and $900 a month. The center spent $2,000 on food in October, he said.

Schnelle said the center receives funding several different ways, including grants from the Town of Greenfield, Project Bread and Community Action, and also receives funding from the United Way of Franklin County.

He said local donors also provide money and products.

“We’ll get through this,” he said. “These people need our help and they’re going to get it.”

The Center for Self-Reliance is located at 3 Osgood St. in Greenfield. Donations may be brought to the center or call 413-773-5029.

Free community meal

Sharon Pleasant, executive director of the Franklin County Community Meals Program, said there’s been some new faces at the dinners.

But many others may not know about the program, she said.

A special meal for the homeless families is being organized for sometime in November, as a chance to introduce families to the program. Social service agencies will attend the meal so that families can learn more about other programs that are available in the community.

The program’s regularly scheduled meals are free and doors always open at 5 p.m. with food served at 5:30 p.m.

They’re offered at the Our Lady of Peace Church in Turners Falls on Mondays, the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the Bethany Lutheran Church in Orange on Mondays and Thursdays.

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