Homeless relief advocates to rally outside Farren on Christmas Eve

  • The Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague closed earlier this year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/21/2021 4:28:08 PM
Modified: 12/21/2021 4:27:53 PM

MONTAGUE — Homelessness relief advocates are looking to send a poignant message by holding a rally outside the Farren Care Center on Christmas Eve.

Organizer Cate Woolner expressed disappointment in parent company Trinity Health of New England’s lack of consideration for using the building to house homeless people during the winter. The Montague City Road facility has been closed since early this year, with the company having essentially merged with a facility in Holyoke.

Woolner’s advocacy falls in line with desires expressed by Montague residents at recent Selectboard meetings, proposing that the facility be used to house homeless people before its recommended demolition. Woolner said holding a demonstration on Christmas Eve from 2 to 3 p.m., will be “evocative of Mary giving birth in a barn,” symbolic of what she believes is an immediately pressing situation.

In a press release announcing the rally, Woolner supported her concern with questions about thought processes surrounding the building’s use that, to her, don’t add up.

“Why is it that an ice storm knocking out electricity for people with houses is considered an emergency worthy of providing emergency shelter, but people without houses living in tents in the cold is not considered an emergency?” she asked. “Our community is saying it is an emergency when people who have houses don’t have electricity, but it isn’t an emergency when people don’t have a house.”

Woolner continued, writing that “the demand is that some space be found immediately, not in February or March, but for tonight and on any given night when people are sleeping in cars or in the woods.”

“I hope that what happens is we get an interim temporary shelter open in January. … I’m very saddened that Trinity Health didn’t consider that as potential use for this property,” she said during a phone interview.

Woolner said the goal is to have 20 activists present at Friday’s rally. She said she has been encouraged by the enthusiasm shared by like-minded locals in conversation and via social media.

“I can tell by the way networks are going … that (word has) spread a lot,” she said.

The Farren Care Center was initially recommended for demolition at a Nov. 8 Selectboard meeting. Immediately, members of the public suggested to the Selectboard that they consider using the facility to house the homeless during the winter.

“We have, in our county and in our state, a huge housing crisis,” Jerry Lund, a member of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, said at the meeting. “Why couldn’t the Farren minimally, for a short period of time — let’s call it winter — be a location where folks who are homeless could be housed to stay safe, warm and well until the season turns?”

The long-term care facility was closed earlier this year, when all of the Farren’s 105 residents were reportedly offered space at Mount Saint Vincent Care Center in Holyoke. Trinity Health has maintained that the Montague City Road building was too old for its purposes and would be too expensive to update to modern standards.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey said that, at this point in time, the town is too unsure of the Farren Care Center’s condition to project how feasible converting the facility into up-to-code housing would be.

“That would be a whole project to figure out a permitting path, depending on what the use would be,” Ramsey said, noting that the town has yet to receive an official proposal for housing at the site. “If it was proposed, we would be happy to facilitate that.”

Ramsey said he would have to consult the town’s building inspector, have a condition assessment conducted, potentially acquire zoning permits, and take other steps in a process that would likely take “a couple years.” He referenced past town projects — including Powers Block and Montague Center School’s transformations into apartment complexes — as examples of similar endeavors that ended up taking this much time.

Ramsey also observed that the Farren Care Center lacks easy access to essential services, such as transportation, that might make the conversion into housing a more sensible decision.

Regardless of a hypothetical project’s feasibility, Ramsey said he wants “to acknowledge that (homelessness is) an issue that needs to be resolved.”

“With winter upon us, and not enough shelter beds in Franklin County to meet the needs of people who are unhoused, many community members face this emergency by sleeping out in the cold in cars or tents,” Woolner wrote in her statement. “No one should spend winter nights unsheltered. And yet the former Farren Hospital in Turners Falls stands empty when only last April it housed 100 people.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy