Mayor to apply ‘rapid re-housing’ effort to growing homeless situation

Council approves addition of port-a-potties, objects to Common curfew in emergency meeting

  • The number of tents on the Greenfield Common has grown to 12 as of Friday, with sources saying at least 20 homeless are now camping on the land. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The number of tents on the Greenfield Common has grown to 12 as of Friday, with sources saying at least 20 homeless are now camping on the land. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/3/2018 9:10:21 PM

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin intends to find at least some solutions to the growing homeless population on the Greenfield Common.

During a recent emergency City Council meeting, a proposal from the mayor and M.J. Adams, who works in the city’s community development office, was made to address the growing homeless population on the Common. The encampment now has an estimated 20 residents at night, and as many as 12 tents were pitched at the location as of Friday.

As part of the proposal, the mayor said he would work to seek alternative housing for the homeless under the condition the Council vote to place the same restrictions on the Common that are on other public lands in Greenfield, with a deadline to impose these restrictions of Sept. 17.

These restrictions include closing the Common from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., unless authorized by permit. Violators could be arrested and face fines up to $200 for each offense.

The council during the emergency meeting went another direction, voting in favor of placing a portable toilet behind city hall for the homeless residents, decreasing regulations on churches to set up temporary shelters and opening the former Wedgewood Gardens property on Kimball Drive as a possible site for an encampment.

Despite the council’s decision, Martin said he will attempt to find temporary housing solutions through a “rapid re-housing team.”

The team will be made up of city officials and social service and humanitarian agencies, Martin said, including Community Action, ServiceNet, the Salvation Army, Eliot Homeless Services and the Franklin County Interfaith Council.

Martin said the plan will connect the homeless residents with housing and employment services, as well as other area resources. The city has tried this once before during a pop-up resource fair on the Common last month.

The task force will also work on “stop-gap shelter needs” for the winter.

Martin said his proposal is meant to address the “snapshot” of the current issue on the Common, which includes about 20 homeless residents. He expects to begin implementing at least some of his strategies next week.

He believes the city can provide services and solutions for the current population there, but expressed concern about more homeless residents moving to the Common and the city unable to address more people’s needs.

Martin said one solution could be finding properties within the city where units could be created for homeless residents. This could come from existing property or from modular pods that could be placed on a property, Martin said.

The mayor added that there are properties in Greenfield that have been abandoned and are under city ownership that could offer the space, but that would only solve a part of the problem.

“The greatest impediment to housing is regulations. It’s very difficult to create a unit,” he said.

According to Martin, the state says it costs an average of $250,000 for a unit to be created.

For properties to be used, Martin said building code regulations for items like safety must be used.

This is why locations like the former First National Bank, a vacant building on Bank Row owned by the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority, is not an option to house the homeless.

Martin said the location would need to have some sort of fire suppression or detection system installed, receive running water and improve some structural deficiencies that are unsafe, like a ceiling that has portions falling. If repairs are needed, then the city would have to go through a process of getting requests for proposal, too, which can delay when the repairs can happen.

Even if a building is brought up to code though, it still must be inspected by the city, and Martin said that could be delayed due to the seemingly perpetual dearth of inspectors in Greenfield.

Porta Potty

One of the items council voted to get for the homeless residents on the Common was a portable toilet that was closer to where their encampment is. The Interfaith Council had recently placed a portable toilet in Energy Park, but there were concerns that the location was too far from the Common.

Martin said the portable toilet is going to be placed behind the Second Congregational Church on Bank Row, which is next door to city hall.

The portable toilet will be open during all times for use, though Martin wasn’t able to give a date when it would come.

According to the Department of Public Works, the cost of a temporary restroom is $150 a month and includes emptying it.

The mayor’s office said the first two months of the portable toilet would be paid for by the Interfaith Council and an unnamed local business. There is no plan currently in place for funding after the two months.

Homeless reaction

During the meeting Thursday, many Greenfield residents asked the city to protect and provide for homeless residents, while councilors voted to take action on what residents requested.

At least some homeless residents on the Common found the outpouring of support reaffirming and showed how embracing the community can be.

“I’m very pleased with the amount of support. Very heartwarming and we’re grateful to our community for supporting us,” Madelynn “Mama Bear” Malloy said.

“I’m very satisfied. Finally got a Porta Potty and got a positive response,” Robert Morin said. “It finally opened their eyes to see … what’s going wrong with society.”

Richard Perry, who spoke at the meeting Thursday and is homeless but doesn’t live on the common, said that while the decisions will help there’s still more to be done.

“I’m really satisfied with what happened. We won that battle but there are more battles to win,” he said.


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