Police, social services team up to ensure housing for homeless amid temp drop

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-06-2023 6:00 PM

GREENFIELD — During a weekend where temperatures plunged below zero, police and social service agencies worked together to ensure shelter was offered to anyone who needed to escape the cold.

“We checked on people all weekend long,” said Deputy Police Chief William Gordon. “Our officers are really sensitive to the needs of our individuals.”

Temperatures on Friday dipped to a low of -14 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a low of -12 degrees on Saturday, according to figures kept by the Greenfield Public Works Department.

Gordon said the department sent out two officers during the day on Friday and then two more later that evening to check areas where people are living in temporary shelters.

“The day shift only found one person (who had) already made arrangements and was all set and denied services,” Gordon explained. “The evening shift found two people who needed services. We were able to get them to resources who were able to house them for the weekend.”

On Saturday, he added, Sgt. Christopher Greene and Lt. Todd Dodge drove to the Eastfield Mall in Springfield to meet Springfield resident Bob Charland, founder of Pedal Thru Youth, who provided them with blankets, tent tarps and backpacks full of warm items. The adult items, Gordon explained, were dropped off at the ServiceNet shelter on Wells Street. Children’s items were to be dropped off at the local Department of Children and Families office on Munson Street.

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ServiceNet Vice President of Community Relations Amy Timmins said nobody was turned away from the Wells Street shelter over the weekend. She explained that while the shelter operates at a capacity of 30 beds — all of which are currently occupied — there are a few upper bunks that aren’t used except in the case of an emergency.

“We had six extra people come in — two women and four men — who had been coming from encampments around,” she said. “It was too cold to stay out. They stayed over the weekend and a couple of them cooked dinner for the whole group.”

Timmins said if there wasn’t bunk space available, there would have been space in the shelter’s living room.

“In an emergency situation like this, it’s so imperative that people get indoors,” Timmins said. “We can stretch to accommodate that for a short period, which we did over the weekend.”

In addition to warming centers in Greenfield, such as the Greenfield Public Library and the John Zon Community Center, the Salvation Army of Athol served as a warming center from 3 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.

After a weekend of flooding followed by subfreezing temperatures in December 2022, members of the public had called for a more “permanent, long-term solution” to supporting the homeless population year-round, not just during extreme weather.

“We’re trying to push for an area to go to, a warming shelter with cots in it and a laundry facility,” Greenfield resident Ryan Whitney said at the time. “It’s a problem that’s ongoing, but it’s not as big as it looks. There’s just no structure to it.”

After oversight of the Wells Street shelter switches from ServiceNet to Clinical & Support Options in April, a dramatic $23 million transformation of the existing shelter is planned. The agency’s proposed design includes a renovation of the existing building, expanding shelter capacity from 30 to 40, and construction of a new three-story building that will hold 36 studio apartments. CSO hopes to break ground in the summer.

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

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