New community ‘Living Room’ offers solace, support during the day

  • Nick Fleisher, Clinical and Support Options vice president for community-based services, at The Living Room at 140 High St. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Staff members Rosa Whelpley and Geoffrey Oldmixon in the Quiet Room at Clinical and Support Option€™s’ The Living Room at 140 High St. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Staff members Nick Fleisher and Anna Armstrong in the living room and kitchen of Clinical and Support Options’ The Living Room at 140 High St. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Clinical and Support Options has opened The Living Room at 140 High St. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/19/2019 11:29:11 PM
Modified: 7/19/2019 11:28:57 PM

GREENFIELD — A modest two-story house at 140 High St. has been transformed into “The Living Room,” a space available for anyone in need to spend time during the day.

Nick Fleisher, Clinical and Support Options (CSO) vice president for community-based services, said The Living Room seeks to serve “people in crisis.”

“It’s a safe, non-judgemental, alternative place for people to go,” Fleisher said.

CSO opened The Living Room in April, Fleisher said, using money from a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The space is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Fleisher said the program seeks to “fill a gap,” supplementing other community services. For example, Greenfield’s homeless shelter on Wells Street is closed during the day.

The Living Room has no schedule, nor does it have entry requirements like insurance or identification cards. The home has a couple of lounge rooms, a bathroom, a laundry room, a kitchen and a backyard. Many times, people come in solely to take a shower or do some laundry, while others stay awhile and make a sandwich, watch television or chat with other guests.

Though there is little structure to the program, The Living Room offers support groups most days. There are currently groups for gardeners and individuals who identify as transgender or non-binary, among others.

The house’s capacity is about 14 people. When this is reached, peer specialists tell guests to return in a short while and there is likely to be room.

The space is staffed solely by peer specialists — employees who have had similar experiences to those who use their program. The specialists provide support to guests, spending time talking to them or helping them find resources. They also help ensure guests follow a set of established Living Room values, among them self-determination, connection, cultural humility and healing.

Peer specialist Anna Armstrong said the role allows her to foster equal, honest relationships with guests. Having worked at a transitional housing program in a more formal position, Armstrong said she prefers working as a peer specialist because she has been through the mental health system and can relate to many guests.

“Being in recovery is a big part of my life,” Armstrong said. “It feels a lot better to be honest with people about where I’m coming from.”

Peer specialist Rosa Whelpley, who recovered from alcoholism a couple of years ago, described the program as “mutual aid at its core.” She added that the space “fills a serious gap” in the community.

“There’s the shelter, there’s other daytime places, but I think there is a gap for material services that this place provides, that other places don’t,” Whelpley said. “Like showers, like laundry, and also like peer support.”

Fleisher said The Living Room seeks to address all aspects of a person’s health.

“Historically, medical care and behavioral care have been separated, but we’re all working with the same person,” Fleisher said. “The same person who has medical problems also has behavioral health problems. We’re trying to make it so that we serve the whole person, not just part of the person.”

A few guests at The Living Room milled about the space on Tuesday, chatting with others in the kitchen and enjoying a peaceful moment in the sun.

Tony Kuksa, a current resident at the Wells Street shelter, said he has come to The Living Room fairly regularly since it opened. He described the space as a “safe haven,” adding that “a lot of people honestly need it.”

“It’s been great here, it’s been awesome,” Kuksa said. “I come up here, I can get a sandwich, I can do some garden work, volunteer a little bit, get a stomach full of food and then go on my way.”

Kayla Fisher, who lives in Bernardston, comes to the Living Room a couple of days a week when she has time off from her job at Erving’s Dunkin’ Donuts. Fisher said she has mental health issues, and began coming to the space because she needed “a little extra support.”

“Sometimes I just come in for social (reasons). Other times I come in because I’m having some emotional issues,” Fisher said. “It’s never one thing in particular.”

Fisher said she has found a “family” in The Living Room’s staff and other guests.

“This is our living room,” Fisher said.

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