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Amherst town manager forming homelessness task force

  • STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 2021

AMHERST — Uncertainty about where the Craig’s Place seasonal homeless shelter will operate in future years is prompting the creation of a municipal task force to examine issues surrounding homelessness in town.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman recently informed Town Council he is forming the Homeless Advisory Committee, which would be responsible for identifying suitable sites for a permanent seasonal or year-round shelter and reviewing surplus town buildings or land suitable for providing services to homeless individuals.

The idea of having the new committee, which could also make a recommendation regarding the future operation of a seasonal shelter, comes after Craig’s Place began using space at the Unitarian Meetinghouse, 121 North Pleasant St., last November.

Craig’s Doors: A Home Association Inc. is providing 10 cots and various other services there, such as meals.

But there are questions about whether it will be able to use the location post-pandemic, once the church resumes weekly services and other activities in person.

For more than 10 years, the shelter, initially a warming site, had been at the First Baptist Church, 434 North Pleasant St. A resource trailer that is open year-round remains parked in that church’s lot.

Bockelman said Tuesday he doesn’t know whether either church will be suitable for a shelter this fall. “If those are not available, where do they go?” he said.

The state has provided significant support to the shelter for its regular operations, with a line item in the state budget for between $175,000 and $200,000.

Though only 10 beds are at the Unitarian Meetinghouse, Craig’s Doors is housing an additional 20 individuals at the University Lodge in Amherst using a state Department of Housing and Community Development grant, and recently began renting 19 more rooms at the EconoLodge hotel in Hadley. The separate rooms better protect from the possibility of COVID-19 being spread than a congregate setting.

In previous years, the shelter’s nightly capacity was 28 people.

The advisory committee’s draft charge also includes determining the scope of need for a homeless shelter, reviewing demographic and other data about unhoused individuals, inventorying the services available in Amherst, and gathering input from guests and service partners for shelter services, case management and continuum of care necessary for getting homeless individuals into permanent housing.