CRESS Program Nearing Capacity


Amherst's CRESS responders. Photo:

Report On The Meeting Of the Community Safety And Social Justice Committee, January 24, 2023

This meeting was conducted over Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.

CRESS Program Well Utilized In First Weeks
The Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service (CRESS) program has had a busy month in its first full month of service after a six-month training and orientation period. The program began full time operations on January 7. Director Earl Miller said that the 10 responders have already been working with complicated situations and that although they haven’t had to decline requests for services, they are nearing that point. The program will employ harm reduction principles to prioritize its work.

Miller requested that the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) help him to educate the community about the CRESS program, especially regarding unhoused people. He said CRESS has received calls to help “get someone off the street”, and emphasized that coercion is specifically prohibited in CRESS’s mission statement. He noted that some homeless people have not been treated well by existing systems and shelters, and that they have the right to decline help. CRESS responders supply unhoused people with clothes and other needs, and give them information on where to seek aid. Miller said, CRESS will be there if they do request help.

Current hours for CRESS responders are Mondays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays through Fridays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Miller said there has been little demand for Sunday hours so far. The average call lasts about two hours, and some last much longer. CRESS responders have been successful in moving dozens of people off the street. In addition, responders have been attending high school basketball games and will be at Winterfest this weekend to increase their visibility. They have also been in touch with public safety departments at the colleges. Miller said that Amherst College students frequently stop in at the CRESS offices in the Bangs Center, and some UMass students use the conference room for quiet study. The program will take on student interns, and will have observers from other communities over the summer. 

CSSJC Co-chair Demetria Shabazz said she heard that the town will conduct an audit of CRESS. Miller said that the Donahue Institute will help CRESS build a dashboard to collect data  to support  transparency and grant applications. Shabazz also questioned why Miller’s valuable time is being used for him to speak at a meeting of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and the Business Improvement District, and Miller responded that being fairly new in Amherst, he doesn’t turn down a chance to introduce himself to local groups in town in order to get CRESS’s message out. CSSJC Co-chair Allegra Clark said it might be good for Amherst’s businesses to hear that CRESS will not be coercive, in light of calls to “clean up the streets” by businesses in other towns.

In addition, Miller said that with his appointment nearing the one-year mark, he would like to collaborate with the CSSJC in an event to commemorate the creation of CRESS and to have a community conversation about its vision. CSSJC members were enthusiastic and said they are considering a Saturday morning in March for the event, with both in-person and virtual attendance. Clark and Shabazz will work with Miller to organize the program.

Thoughts On A BIPOC Youth Center
Assistant DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Director Jennifer Moyston said she wants to explore the possibility of cooperating with neighboring towns such as Hadley and Sunderland to create a regional Youth Empowerment Center. She also would like to see if the Upward Bound program that was so impactful to her when she was in high school could be revived for Amherst youth.

CSSJC Sees Support Needed For Black-Owned Businesses
CSSJC member Pat Ononibaku noted that no Black-owned businesses received money in the first round of ARPA funds distributed last year. The awards were determined by the BID. According to Ononibaku, the Black Business Association of Amherst, established in 2016 and with 20 member businesses, was not contacted. Gabrielle Gould, Director of the BID, defended its distribution, saying that 42 of the 62 awards were to businesses owned by BIPOC or marginalized groups. However, Ononibaku noted that white women were designated by the BID as a minority group. Of the three new businesses given grants, all were BIPOC, one being Black owned. 

Ononibaku made her concerns known to the Town Manager, but has yet to hear back from him. She would like the remainder of ARPA funds for businesses to be awarded to the BBA, which would distribute the money to its members without having to go through the BID. She expressed the hope that the BBA will  be “at the table” in the future when decisions are made about Amherst businesses.

CSSJC Supports Childcare And Eldercare Stipends For Volunteer Committee Members
Moyston said that in her role as a Community Participation Officer (CPO), she and her fellow CPOs found that lack of childcare was an important barrier to participation on committees and in community events. Shabazz noted that Montpelier, Vermont recently allocated $30,000 in its budget to pay childcare stipends to people who provide volunteer service to the town. She and Ononibaku will work on submitting a budget request for childcare and eldercare money to be set aside for Amherst residents who need support.

In other business, Clark announced that she had filed a complaint with the POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) Commission regarding the town’s failure to file a report about the July 5 /Amherst 9 incident and ignoring requests for information from the Human Rights Commission.

The CSSJC requested an email address for members of the public to communicate with the committee. Some correspondence has been delayed in reaching the committee because there is no designated email address. Moyston will check with the IT department about the matter.

Ononibaku noted that, as a businesswoman, she learned a lot by watching a video of the Personnel Committee discussing the salary scale for town employees. This got her thinking that it would be a good idea for representatives of all town committees to get together once a year or so to let others know what they have been working on. She said this could be a virtual meeting.

The CSSJC will next meet on Friday, February 10 at 6 p.m.

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