Interfaith group focused on helping people secure housing

  • The Rev. Kate Stevens is president of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County. The council’s Housing Assistance Committee has quietly been awarding hundreds of dollars to individuals and families in need of start-up housing funds for the last decade. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2021 4:28:53 PM

GREENFIELD — For just about the last decade, a handful of people from various agencies in the county have quietly been awarding hundreds of dollars to individuals and families in need of start-up housing funds.

“We gather funds for people who are evicted; people who had been in shelters or rehabs, or a bad or unhealthy housing situation,” said Amy Clarke, a member of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County’s Housing Assistance Committee. “We try to act as quickly as possible to keep people from falling deeper into trouble.”

The committee — which is made up of individuals from partner agencies including Community Action Pioneer Valley, Montague Catholic Ministries and the Salvation Army, for example — grew out of a desire to be more “pro-active” in helping people secure housing.

Over a decade ago, Clarke explained, the Interfaith Council of Franklin County created a warming center in the basement of the Second Congregational Church that closed after about two months, in part because it wasn’t financially sustainable, given the small number of people who depended on it each night.

“We thought … ‘Let’s see if we can make an impact … before people need shelter,’” Clarke said.

And so formed the Housing Assistance Committee, a group that, before the pandemic, met weekly on Tuesdays at the Second Congregational Church. Currently, it meets weekly via Zoom.

The Rev. Kate Stevens, president of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, said the Housing Assistance Committee is one of several “sub-groups” within the council.

“It’s part of our commitment to work with those who are underserved and often ignored, and that’s part of what we try to do in the area,” Stevens said.

Each week, Clarke said, the group reviews applications for families or individuals in need of start-up funding for housing.

“They do need to show they have a sustainable budget,” she noted. “So once we can get them caught up or in their place, they have an income or a (Supplemental Security Income). … They need to be able to show they can continue to make payments.”

Clarke said it’s not always a huge amount of money the committee provides; typically it’s a couple hundred dollars.

Still, that money can be used to help anyone, regardless of a person’s residency status. The only requirement is they are looking for housing in Franklin County.

“We can help wherever the help is needed,” she said.

Clarke said this year, with additional government assistance programs and moratoriums on evictions and turning off utilities, the committee has received fewer applications than in previous years.

“People are managing right now and not in desperate situations,” she said. “It may change again, and if it does, we will have the funds set aside.”

This fiscal year, which ends June 30, the committee supported 25 applications. By comparison, in fiscal year 2018, the committee supported 27 applications; in fiscal year 2019, about 43 individuals and families were assisted.

The funds distributed are a legacy of the Church Street Home Fund of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, as well as donations from the Salvation Army, the United Way of Franklin County, churches and individuals.

“One or two people have spent their stimulus checks with us, … which have been wonderful gifts,” she said. “The community is very generous.”

Clarke said she thinks people are beginning to realize that housing is a key issue in the community, after years of food insecurity being the primary concern.

“Food has been the key issue, but I think that’s being handled, thanks to the food bank, Stone Soup Cafe … and everybody; that’s being handled really well,” she said. “There are terrific efforts … but housing is so much more difficult and I think that is the key issue right now.”

Clarke said the service the Housing Assistance Committee provides is a temporary solution, or to “hold things together.”

“The real need is for more affordable housing,” she said.

She recalled a woman and her family that the committee was recently able to support, after months of living in a local motel and watching the limited supply of affordable apartments get “snapped up” before they could save enough for a deposit.

“One of the greatest days was when she sent pictures with keys in front of her new place,” Clarke said. “We feel terrific about that family.”

Applications for rent arrears or seed funding through the Housing Assistance Committee can be obtained from the Salvation Army in Greenfield, Montague Catholic Social Ministries in Turners Falls, or by emailing Amy Clarke at dclarke33@comcast.net.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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