Families in hotels; 90 more kids in schools, officials worried about families, services
Greenfield Recorder 10/24/2013, Page A01
By ANITA FRITZ Recorder Staff
GREENFIELD — A substantial increase in the number of homeless families living in Greenfield hotels has some questioning what the impact will eventually be on the town and its services, including fire and police, over time and what those impacts will cost.
This week at a public hearing held by the town’s Human Rights Commission concerning a town park, a couple of people asked what the mayor and others are doing about the estimated 60 new homeless families who have come from all over the state to live in Greenfield hotels — for weeks if not months.
Mayor William Martin called it a crisis and said the sudden influx of homeless families, which has brought scores of school-age children to Greenfield, is a pressing issue for the town.
Martin said that so far the biggest impact seen in town has been on the schools.
There has been a recent enrollment of about 90 in Greenfield schools, which includes 46 new students in Newton School on the Mohawk Trail over the past few weeks.
Greenfield is also transporting 15 students to their own schools in Springfield.
There are also a number of students and parents who are commuting to school and work each day to eastern Massachusetts.
“I am talking with the state and our state representatives to see what we can do about this,” said Martin.
The town’s police and fire departments have also been seeing at least slight impacts at this point.
According to Fire Department records, there have been five calls each from the Quality Inn on the Mohawk Trail and the Days Inn on Colrain Street since Aug. 1. Since the beginning of the year, there were only three calls total to the two hotels.
While the Fire Department’s records don’t indicate whether it is homeless families making the calls, having the calls made about them, or involved in any way, the increase has happened since the surge.
Likewise, Greenfield Police Sgt. Mark Williams said there has been a slight increase in the number of calls to police to the two hotels, though nothing out of the ordinary or really serious.
Williams said calls to report disturbances, harassment and unattended children have increased slightly, but he said police don’t ask if the people involved are homeless when responding.
State Rep. Paul Mark, who represents Greenfield in the House of Representatives, said he is concerned for the homeless families and for the town.
“Sen. (Stanley) Rosenberg and I have been talking with the mayor and the state Department of Housing and Community Development,” said Mark. “We’re discussing different options.”
Mark said the two are also talking with the state Department of Education, because they do not want to see Greenfield penalized when homeless students enroll and then eventually go back home to the eastern part of the state.
“We don’t want dropout rates to increase because of that,” said Mark. “We don’t want Greenfield to suffer any adverse effects.”
Mark said the bigger picture, though, is that families living in hotels is not an ideal situation and it’s one that DHCD has been trying to change.
According to Matthew Sheaff, spokesman for the DHCD, the state had planned to move families out of hotels completely by 2014, but a huge increase in the number of homeless families this summer, along with cuts to funding that would have helped families in hotels move into apartments and homes, set the program back a few steps.
He said no one is sure about the reason for the surge.
Sheaff said state shelters filled up quickly this summer and the overflow of families had to be placed in hotels. He said many families from the eastern part of the state ended up in Greenfield because that’s where rooms were available.
Sheaff said for the most part, the hotels that typically participate in the program are the bigger chains like Days Inn and Quality Inn. He said higher-end hotels in the middle of a city don’t typically participate.
Sheaff said the state pays hotels $82 a day per family, which equals $2,460 for a 30-day month.
“There just weren’t enough rooms out east,” said Sheaff, who said Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein is working to get families back to the eastern part of the state “as soon as possible,” although no one seems to know how long that will really be.
He said that many of the adults in the homeless families staying in Greenfield hotels were looking for jobs in eastern Massachusetts and want to get back there as soon as possible to continue their searches.
Sheaff said only families are allowed to stay in hotels, not individuals.
While the DHCD has criteria for which families qualify for the program and one of those qualifications is that the people have to be Massachusetts residents, the state’s requirement for residency seems simply to be living here.
Therefore, town officials, including the mayor, areconcerned that some of the families staying in Greenfield hotels haven’t lived in Massachusetts very long and have simply come here for the generous social benefits.
Sheaff said a family must meet one of the following criteria to be allowed in the program: fleeing domestic violence, be a victim of flood, fire or natural disaster, or must have been evicted through no fault of their own or excused fault.
He said they also must make 115 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline, so, for instance, a family of four would have to be making $23,550 or less.
Both the Days Inn and Quality Inn did not return calls asking why they decided to participate in the program.
The person who answered the phone at Quality Inn on Tuesday said that he was told he could not talk to the press as per the DHCD and gave Sheaff’s name.
Sheaff said he asked hotels not to share information about any of the homeless people staying there, but said he never told the hotels they could not talk to the press.
“We want people to understand what is going on,” said Sheaff.