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City sees no perfect solution for homeless on Common

  • Tents on the Greenfield Common Thursday in Greenfield. August 9, 2018

  • People gather on the Greenfield Common Thursday in Greenfield. August 9, 2018

  • People gather on the Greenfield Common Thursday in Greenfield. August 9, 2018

  • People gather on the Greenfield Common Thursday in Greenfield. August 9, 2018

Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2018 8:23:30 PM

GREENFIELD — Now that the city has ordered homeless residents off the Greenfield Common, it is faced with the question of what to do with those displaced.

The Board of Health ordered those camping on the Common to leave by Aug. 20, with a cease-and-desist expected to be delivered today. The decision was one that pleased Mayor William Martin, while he said Thursday that finding temporary housing for the people on the Common won’t be easy.

With the Board of Health’s decision, the time frame for arranging temporary housing is much shorter than what had been contemplated by the City Council or originally proposed by Martin.

The council had been looking at an Oct. 1 deadline, and Martin had previously proposed a Sept. 17 deadline. After the health board ordered the homeless camp closed, the City Council canceled an emergency meeting scheduled for Thursday to consider when and how to move the homeless.

Martin said, “We can arrange for temporary housing the best we can,” but he added that he “can’t promise” anything and “can’t force people” to move into the temporary housing.

He found a possible location for temporary housing at 140 High St. The location is owned by Community & Support Options, a Greenfield nonprofit social service organization, which will operate the temporary shelter. The location could house as many as 16 people.

Up to 20 people have been believed to be living on the Common in recent times. There are other homeless shelters in the city, but they are routinely full.

The Community & Support Options location isn’t ready and may not be by Aug. 20.

Karin Jeffers, president of Community & Support Options, said funding is the biggest obstacle to getting the building ready. She said for the location to be used, there will need to be staff, food and other services provided 24 hours a day.

“We don’t have any funding now for that,” she said.

And Jeffers said the only plausible solution is getting state funding, which has not been guaranteed.

“State funds all primary shelter options right now,” she said. “We would certainly be looking for alternative funding, but it’s not easy to come by and no guarantee.”

Both Jeffers and Martin said the city is trying to work with the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to see if state funds are available.

Use of the Community & Support Options building as a shelter has been approved by Building Inspector Mark Snow, but additional approvals from health inspectors and others are needed before it can be occupied. This could delay when the former group home is used.

Martin said these delays are in part because the health department is understaffed, lacking one inspector and its director. He also said cuts in the budget by the City Council have exacerbated the situation.

Homeless reaction

Following the Board of Health decision, Common resident Madelynn Malloy said, “I’m not surprised in the least” with the decision. Malloy has become the de facto spokeswoman for those on the Common.

And while the city is attempting to provide the temporary housing, she said, “I don’t know if I will take it up” if it is offered to her.

“No one spoke to us about it from the town. No one talked to us to see what we want,” she said.

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