Greenfield shelter leaders ponder impacts of potential funding infusion, stay limit

Greenfield has two emergency shelters, one of which is at the Days Inn on Colrain Road, pictured.

Greenfield has two emergency shelters, one of which is at the Days Inn on Colrain Road, pictured. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-12-2024 5:40 PM

Modified: 03-12-2024 6:27 PM


GREENFIELD — Less than a week after the House voted to pass a spending bill allocating $245 million to the state’s emergency shelters and impose a stay limit, Greenfield shelter operators are unsure how the legislation could impact their residents.

The House voted 121-33 to approve the spending bill, which, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, would establish a nine-month stay limit for most emergency shelter residents — a drop from the current average stay time of 13 to 14 months. However, the bill allows 12 continuous months of shelter for pregnant women, people with certain disabilities, veterans and people at imminent risk of domestic violence.

Greenfield has two emergency shelters — one at the Days Inn on Colrain Road, which houses 45 families, and another at the Greenfield Family Inn on Federal Street, which houses 16 families. Both sites are operated by ServiceNet, a nonprofit human services agency that provides for those facing homelessness, mental illness, developmental disability and substance abuse.

The Days Inn shelter opened last summer, after Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency following a roughly 80% increase in migrant families seeking shelter in Massachusetts. Marisa Perez, who is overseeing the emergency shelter at the hotel, previously said that the majority of the families living at the Days Inn are Haitian refugees. Others were stationed for a few years in other countries, including Chile and Mexico, before finding their way to the United States. Still other families immigrated from Colombia, Jamaica and Africa, and some are Massachusetts residents.

According to ServiceNet Vice President of Community Relations Amy Timmins, the emergency shelter has not been around long enough to infer whether the bill’s nine-month stay limit would negatively impact its residents.

Still, Timmins said the city’s shelter system would benefit greatly from state-subsidized affordable housing.

“We’re simply waiting to see what the impact of this bill might be if it’s passed,” Timmins said. “We look forward to learning more about strategies the state may have for affordable housing, because that’s the challenge on the other end — finding affordable homes for people to move into when they leave the shelter.”

The bill also permits shelters to extend stays by three months for residents who are employed or enrolled in a job training program and allows the Healey administration to create a re-application process for residents after they have exceeded the limits of their stays.

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A change the House embraced during debate sets parameters on how families could lose access to shelter. The amendment, filed by Second Assistant Majority Leader Frank Moran, would require each resident to receive at least 90 days notice before termination of their benefits and bars the state from pushing more than 150 families out of the program per week.

Timmins said that while the needs of emergency shelter residents vary from family to family, ServiceNet aims to helps them to obtain the skills and credentials so they can move out of shelter housing.

“The needs are so varied, it’s not a one-size-fits-all in this. Sometimes people need to get into a particular job training program, but other times they may need to be enrolled in language classes. Other times, it may be finding child care. There can be any number of different supports that residents need to really get to work and get into permanent housing,” Timmins said. “The focus of our work from the start, when people first come in, is to help families secure the support and the documents and the resources that they need to move out of shelter. … That may mean getting a driver’s license or ID or a Social Security number card.”

Massachusetts — the only state in the country that guarantees emergency shelter services to some families and pregnant women — hit a record number of families in the shelter system months ago. The spike prompted Healey to impose a capacity limit of 7,500 families in the fall, leaving 783 eligible families on a wait list as of last week.

If the Senate and Healey agree with the House’s proposed $245 million, the year-to-date total appropriation for emergency family shelters would rise to $820 million, more than four times as much as the state made available for the system in fiscal year 2021. In the Senate, top Democrats have yet to give a clear indication of whether they support limiting how long families can stay in the shelters.

ServiceNet currently receives funding from the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities. Timmins said she does not know how the $245 million in funding will affect the city’s shelters if passed, but she plans to “keep on keeping on” with the city’s regular shelter services.

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Information from State House News Service was used in this article.