Craig’s Doors shelter in Amherst to move guests into Hadley hotel


Staff Writer

Published: 06-21-2023 7:49 PM

AMHERST — A permanent emergency shelter remains a long-term vision for the former VFW site on Main Street in Amherst, but in the short term, some guests served by Craig’s Doors: A Home Association will relocate this summer to rooms in a vacant Hadley hotel that has been eyed for affordable housing.

Craig’s Doors will soon move people from rooms at the University Motor Lodge in Amherst to the first floor at the former EconoLodge hotel at 329 Russell St., the Hadley hotel that Valley Community Development owns and has planned to convert to 51 apartments for up to 63 low- and moderate-income individuals.

That project has been delayed following the Hadley Zoning Board of Appeals voting down a comprehensive permit under the state’s Chapter 40B law.

“The building is going to afford such a dramatic increase in the quality of life for our guests,” said Craig’s Doors Executive Director Tim McCarthy, observing it is closer for those who go to appointments in Northampton and rely on public transportation.

Valley CDC Executive Director Alexis Breiteneicher said the hotel can be used in such a way on a temporary basis, with 24 hours a day, seven days a week staffing on-site, similar to how it was operated during the pandemic out of the same space. It’s a sensible use of the site, she said, after being used during the fall 2022 semester to house University of Massachusetts transfer students.

Valley CDC purchased the three-story, 29,230-square-foot hotel from Hampshire Hospitality Group for $4.1 million using Community Economic Development Assistance Corp. funding.

“It has been heartbreaking holding a vacant hotel when there are so many people in need of a roof over their head,” Breiteneicher said.

As far as the future of the project, Breiteneicher said Valley CDC has filed an appeal with the state’s Housing Appeals Committee, having one hearing this month, and another hearing is in early July.

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There is also a coinciding effort at the town level to resolve the matter, with the Zoning Board and Select Board discussing in executive session whether there is a way to come to an agreement. Zoning Board members, who heard both support and opposition, said a decision so consequential for the town should not be made by their unelected panel. Both the Select Board and Planning Board, whose members are elected, voted to support the conversion of the hotel.

Permanent shelter plans

Meanwhile, at an Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust meeting last week, town officials said that the VFW building and property, bought by the town for $775,000 over the winter, will become both a new shelter with associated services and apartments for low-income residents, possibly some who are military veterans.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the town will soon seek bidders to get the building ready for demolition, and will then put out a call for agencies interested in the redevelopment. “The goal is to clean up the site (and) get everything ready,” Ziomek said.

Under plans being considered, permanent supportive housing would be located on the second and third floor of the building, with a shelter on the ground level. The project is likely to be in the $7 to $10 million range.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said it will take time to develop the site in partnership with various agencies. “We have big ambitious goals for this, and whether we can achieve that is going to be a question,” Bockelman said.

McCarthy said his agency supports the project as it has relied on temporary sites, including the Immanuel Lutheran Church, as the overnight emergency shelter. “It’s incredibly exciting to think there will be a space like this in Amherst,” McCarthy said.

While the exact plans are unknown, McCarthy suggested a scaled-down model of the Yawkey Housing Resource Center, or Father Bill’s Place, in Quincy, which blends a housing-first model with emergency sheltering, mental health and medical resources on site, and transitional housing.

McCarthy said for the more than 60 people it is serving, to truly exit homelessness is a yearslong process, yet most permanent supportive housing doesn’t provide people the services they need to be successful. “These cycles of homeless don’t just end with getting someone inside — it requires community buy-in,” McCarthy said.

Craig’s Place is part of a federal reimagining homelessness initiative that requires various services and support for homeless individuals, and the need for progressive and innovative community resources. The “heads on beds” model it has used keeps people out of the elements, but it has limited services and taken pressure off other communities that need to do their part in addressing the crisis, he said.

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