By CHRIS CURTIS
Monday, September 28, 2015
(Published in print: Tuesday, September 29, 2015)
GREENFIELD — Members of the local Opioid Task Force and others interested in the intersection of the opioid epidemic and public housing took the opportunity to introduce the area’s gains and gaps as the state’s top housing official visited the area Monday.
State Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash stopped at Greenfield Gardens on the tail end of an economic development-focused tour with area legislative representatives Susannah Whipps Lee and Paul Mark.
The Greenfield Gardens visit was a last-minute addition to an itinerary beginning with stops in Athol and the vacant former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus in Northfield.
April Noeun, Greenfield Gardens resident service coordinator, felt the meeting was productive.
“I think at least we get to meet the people and they get to put a face to who we are and what we’re doing, and hopefully then if they get some money or they have new initiatives and are looking to partner up with somebody, we definitely are willing to do that,” Noeun said.
Noeun was among representatives of the tenant-owned housing development and its management company attending the meeting, with Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan and Register of Probate John Merrigan, founding members of the local Opioid Task Force, Task Force Director Marisa Hebble, Mayor William Martin and Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr.
Donelan, Merrigan and Hebble introduced the broad strokes of the Opioid Task Force’s history and approach, including ongoing work to promote sober housing for people leaving treatment programs and the Franklin County House of Correction, which amounts to treatment locally. Donelan said the way criminal records — Criminal Offender Record Information — follow housing and job seekers hampers rehabilitation efforts.
“We have an intensive treatment program, and we ask them to devote an incredible amount of time to treatment, education, vocational training within the House of Correction, and then they get out and they can’t find a place to live, they can’t get a job because of CORI,” Donelan said.
Hebble said the Task Force is actively working with housing communities — funding the third year of a summer youth program for Greenfield Gardens residents, for instance — but needs support.
Donelan said they have been working with the Greenfield Housing Authority, which manages Leyden Woods and the Winslow Apartments, and they are now setting aside apartments for released inmates, and working with the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce to find jobs.
Ash asked how the Task Force is contending with red tape in its collaborations, and said he found in Chelsea that privacy rules need to catch up to the current crisis.
Trish Leonard, co-chair of the Task Force’s housing subcommittee and a longtime public housing manager, said housing managers can push residents toward treatment if they are on the point of eviction and treatment can be offered as an alternative. Helping parents means helping children, she said, by curing the hopelessness that may motivate addiction. “A lot of this is generational,” she said.
Leonard championed cameras as a solution, saying they have shown amazing results in her work in Leominster. Leonard said the system seems a little “Big Brother” at first, but has proven effective in managing the small number of problem residents, initially 20 in the 215-unit property.
Ash complimented the local collaboration, said the governor speaks at every cabinet meeting with his own Opioid Task Force, and the problem remains a top priority for him. Ash said there is, unfortunately, a lag time in all initiatives. “The bad news is we’ll probably lose more people … the good news is this collaboration,” he said.
You can reach Chris Curtis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257