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RECOVER Project helps with challenge of finding an affordable landlord

  • The RECOVER Project staff member Larry Thomas. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Larry Thomas at The RECOVER Project on Federal Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Larry Thomas works at The RECOVER Project on Federal Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • John Knight Sr., looks through Craigslist ads for available apartments on the computers at the RECOVER Project on Federal Street in Greenfield on Dec. 6. Knight has been searching for an apartment since January of 2016. Staff Photo/Dan Little



Staff Writer
Friday, December 07, 2018

GREENFIELD — People tend to know Larry Thomas as patient, as positive, as the guy who always will stop, say ‘Hi’ and ask how you’re doing.

At a hearing to see if he could secure an apartment, Thomas found himself furious.

“I had to go through this hearing,” Thomas said. “It was difficult. I had two people advocating for me from ServiceNet. My housing coordinator and my therapist. They both know me.”

Thomas had been staying at shelters and surfing friends’ couches, but things had started to turn the corner. He had housing at a halfway house that partners renters with social workers. He had begun to move from a member of The RECOVER Project to a trained recovery coach — a burgeoning profession in the recovery community — and even an employee of The RECOVER Project, where he has grown into a leader in that community.

At the time, he was just on the cusp of having a steady job, but without steady housing. Thomas wanted his own place, but he needed to go before this hearing with letters of recommendation.

“It was almost like going to court,” Thomas said. “It was uncomfortable. I kind of got mad about it. The lady kept looking at my criminal record. I said, ‘Ma’am, can you look at the letters?’ This isn’t the 80s. It’s 2017.”

Thomas, like others in the community, especially those in recovery, struggles with finding housing when having a criminal record, albeit sometimes from decades ago.

Oftentimes, that criminal record is related to a history with drugs. The criminal record is not necessarily related to violent crimes.

“I’m being judged and looked at again,” Thomas said. “All this stuff I already did time for. We have to do it all over again.”

Change coming?

Walk into The RECOVER Project and there will usually be one constant: At least one of the three computers is being used by someone scrolling through Craigslist for available apartments in town.

Some people print out applications for public housing and Section 8 rent vouchers.

Then there’s the widely used, but not well-loved list of landlords who are known to rent to people looking for affordable housing. The copy of the Greenfield Housing Authority list in the RECOVER Project is marked up with notes on this landlord and that.

“You have no idea of the people who come in here, sit down, they put their head in their hands and they’re crying,” said Chris Decot, a member of The RECOVER Project.

Decot is determined to change this.

“I was a junkie — you’re so overwhelmed,” Decot said of the housing search process, especially for those in recovery. The forms are long, they are cumbersome, and some of them are just starting to be able to be filled out online.

He’s convinced there must be many more landlords out there who aren’t on the Housing Authority list.

He’s calling for them to come to The RECOVER Project on Federal Street for an evening with potential tenants, for a time of community building.

“We need help with this,” Decot said. “I can’t tell you the amount of opioid people, alcoholics, that’ll go back on the street because they get out of a halfway house or a friend says to them that they can’t stay with (the friend) once you get out of the Beacon House — they’re gone, they’re gone. Housing is huge. Any time of year. It doesn’t matter whether it’s cold or not.”

“Housing seems to befuddle or flummux everyone here,” Decot said. “There has to be a way to streamline it a bit. Let’s get a list of people. Let’s get a little more hope.”