Kevin Noonan, Director of Craig’s Doors Shelter, came to the November 12 meeting of the Amherst Affordable Municipal Housing Trust to give an update on the changes in Craig’s Doors shelter for this season. Because the First Baptist Church, which had hosted the shelter in past years, is not large enough to allow the social distancing required by precautions necessary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter was moved to the Amherst Unitarian Universalist Society Church (UUC). The shelter opened on November 1 and, unlike the previous shelter, is open and staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The UUC has been the site of the Wednesday community breakfasts, so is well known to shelter participants and staff. The congregate shelter at the church can accommodate 14 beds. In addition, the shelter was able to rent 20 rooms at the University Motor Lodge from the Amherst Hospitality Group. The motel rooms are mostly reserved for women, the elderly, and those with special circumstances.
All clients and staff must have a negative COVID test to stay at the shelter, although those awaiting test results can stay at the motel. Those with positive tests will be bused to the only isolation shelter in the state in Everett. Previous isolation and quarantine sites in Northampton and Pittsfield are no longer operating. Mayors and Town Managers in Western Mass have sent a letter to the State Secretary of Health and Human Services, Marylou Sudders, to request reopening of the shelter at the Quality Inn in Northampton (see below).
Thus far the shelter opening has gone smoothly. As of Thursday evening (11/12), there was only one bed available at the motel. All beds at the church were full. Noonan was worried that additional space would not be available to serve all who need shelter, especially as the weather gets colder and the effects of the recently expired eviction moratorium are felt. Those within existing relationships, such as couples or parents and children can share a hotel room. Since the UUC is only closed to the public until May, the shelter needs to find a more permanent location.
Noonan says other challenges are trying to find overnight staffing with the new season. Also, the shelter is waiting for more stable funding from the State. Because surplus food from UMass dining services is not available this year, Craig’s Doors is dependent on USDA and the Food Bank for provisions. These funds may be in jeopardy after December 31.
Craig’s Doors does have some vouchers for Emergency Rehousing, but many clients need more support before they can live independently.
Those who wish to volunteer at the shelter should contact Noonan at email@example.com or 413-256-0704.
Letter to State Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders From Western Mass Municipal Executives Concerning The Need For A Quarantine Facility In Western Mass For Homeless People
Dear Secretary Sudders:
I am writing on behalf of the Western Massachusetts’ mayors and town managers noted below to request a meeting with you to discuss the emergency shelter, isolation and quarantine needs facing our communities.
Specifically, we are seeking the re-leasing of The Quality Inn in Northampton for combined purposes: isolation/quarantine (I/Q) for the Western MA region and in a separate area, shelter for people who are not COVID-19 positive but are otherwise extremely vulnerable due to living outside.
As you know, right now the only isolation and quarantine hotel available for people who are homeless is located in Everett, MA, a roughly 200 mile trip from the City of Northampton and much farther for those communities farther west than ours. Our public health leaders from the region have expressed grave concern that many people experiencing homelessness are likely to refuse to get tested or to quarantine – in effect refuse shelter – for fear of being relocated so far from their home community if they test positive or have been exposed to COVID-19. Additionally, if someone who is staying at the shelter is exposed to COVID-19, without an accessible I/Q site, the entire shelter may be required to shut down to keep people safe.
These scenarios pose an extreme health risk to these individuals and the communities in which they live and seriously threaten to spread COVID-19 when our shared goal is to contain it.
Also right now, Northampton is at a crossroads for obtaining additional winter shelter capacity. The site used last Spring at the Northampton High School is no longer available due to the possibility of school reopening and there is not a suitable alternative. The Quality Inn has sufficient space to serve as I/Q space and in an entirely separate and safe area, to provide shelter for Northampton’s homeless population. We understand FEMA reimbursement is available for all required purposes and we are happy to work with DHCD to ensure that happens.
Finally, it must be noted that in addition to the space needs, every single region across the state is facing a shelter workforce crisis and Western Massachusetts is no exception. Shelter providers are already experiencing staff shortages and are extremely uncertain of how they will meet the staffing demands in the coming months. This challenge can only be met through a two-part statewide plan that addresses sufficient I/Q and hotel sites with state-sponsored staffing where necessary.
We would greatly appreciate an opportunity to talk further and problem-solve with you. We look forward to partnering with you to keep people sheltered and safe with a focus on regional equity which ensures that Western Massachusetts is afforded opportunities and services to meet our unique needs.
Thanks very much for your time and attention. We look forward to hearing from you.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz
Springfield Mayor Dominic J. Sarno
Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman
West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt
Chicopee Mayor John L. Vieau
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse
Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle
South Hadley Town Manager Michael Sullivan
Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer
North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard