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Between the Lines: Cold and Homeless

There’s no shelter of last resort.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Daily Hampshire Gazette photo
Frances Crowe

On the phone with Kevin Noonan, director of the Craig’s Place shelter in Amherst, the Advocate heard the problem of the Valley’s homeless in deadly cold sifted down to one ominous fact: there’s a lot of shelter room, but not enough for every single person every night.

The last few weeks have been difficult, Noonan said, because there was very cold weather while the town’s college students, some of whom volunteer at the shelter, were away on their holiday break. “This is our third cold snap this year,” Noonan said last week. “Luckily, the town lets us expand when the temperature drops to the single digits. Thanks to [town manager John Musante], we can expand to [shelter] 34 instead of 22. We’ve had one night with 34; we’ve been hovering around 30. Then Sunday we had to turn eight people away. We sent two to the cot shelter in Northampton and one went to the hospital, but we don’t have any idea what happened to the other five. That doesn’t sit well with us.”

And what about people who don’t find their way to the shelter? “We don’t have any outreach team,” Noonan said, adding that he sometimes gets calls from people concerned about someone they see out in the weather with no shelter. “When I get calls,” Noonan said, “I will go out looking for people.”

In Springfield, the Valley’s largest city, the Friends of the Homeless Shelter has enough capacity to take anyone who comes, though they may have to spend the night on blankets on the floor rather than in beds, executive director William Miller told the Advocate. And people who are “new to being homeless,” Miller explained, can come any time of night. Sometimes, too, police bring people in very late at night, Miller said. And Springfield has an organization, Health Care for the Homeless, that sends a van out to look for people in the city who need shelter.

But no one can be sure there aren’t people who fall through the cracks even in the city, and in the Upper Valley, Noonan said a shelter of last resort is needed for those who can’t fit into the existing facilities.

Because Craig’s Place is open later than many other shelters in the Valley, Noonan said, “occasionally I get calls from social workers from Greenfield or Springfield, from prison officials and what not. They say, We’ve got a guy who’s coming out. Can he get a bed?” If Craig’s Place is full, a homeless person can be out of luck, he added, because “it costs $50 to send them in a taxi to Springfield.”

In Amherst, Noonan said, “We’ve suggested that we send them to the police station or fire department, but we haven’t gotten any traction with that. It’s just, Good luck to you, here’s a blanket, here’s a bus pass. It’s nice of the town to let us expand when it’s freezing, but we need to figure out what to do with the overflow.”•

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