The shelter program has now received $135,000 in ARPA funds through the state, North Adams and Williamstown that with $100,000 from the Massachusetts Housing and Service Alliance will support a program for emergency shelter in local motels this winter.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When the temperatures drop in the Berkshires, some people literally get left out in the cold.
Louison House is working to solve that problem by finding emergency shelter for people in Northern Berkshire who find themselves homeless as well as creating pathways to permanent housing.
The family shelter has gotten a boost for its motel emergency housing program of $135,000 in state and local funding recently, including $75,000 allotted from the state's American Rescue Plan Act funds through the efforts of state Sen. Adam Hinds and state Rep. John Barrett III. The city of North Adams is kicking in $50,000 from its ARPA funds and the Williamstown Select Board authorized $10,000.
Kathy Keeser, the family shelter's executive director, said the people they serve come from a wide range of situations. Maybe they've been living in tents or garages, or with a friend who's now in trouble with their landlord because of it. There's the lady whose pipes froze, the tenant whose apartment is a hazard, the individual who has a health condition and the person who just can't find a place to live in the current rental market.
"We have a lot of people for various reasons," she said at Thursday's funding announcement at Flood House. "And yes, we do have people with mental health and substance. We don't hide that. That is part of what is with the people we have there. And I sometimes we get comments from people saying as if they're not deserving because they happen to be addicts of alcohol or other substances. They still deserve housing."
Hinds had filed the amendment after speaking with Keeser about the shortage of housing and the lack of emergency shelter.
"Imagine a week like this, with zero or sub-zero wind chill for temperatures and not having a place to stay," said Hinds. "As you pointed out, maybe you think you might be in a tent or in somebody's garage, or then you come to a winter shelter or to a shelter in general and find that there's a waitlist, and what do you do then? So having the ability to pay for hotel rooms and emergency instances is just been critical to our current strategy."
Hinds, who is running for lieutenant governor, said it was hard not to make a bigger statement about the housing problem and the need to move from a right to shelter state to a right to housing state and the proven implications for stable access to health and services.
"S it feels like this is the stop gap to a bigger strategy that we need to undertake," he said.
The shelter is working with motels outside of North Adams to provide emergency housing, including the Mount Royal Inn in Adams. The program is anticipated to cost about $200,000 with $100,000 in funding coming from the Massachusetts Housing and Service Alliance's Emergency Solutions Grants Program.
Keeser said they had planned for 15 beds but that was filled up almost immediately and the shelter began working with other motels to address the shortage in beds, especially for youth.
"And it can sound like we're getting tons of money, but most of is going to the motels. But [Administrative Assistant] Betty [Hakes] will tell you it's around $30,000 a month right now, and that's probably going to go up per month," she said. The program is expected to go through April at least.
Louison House Family Support Center includes both the original house in Adams, now called Terry's House, and the Flood House in North Adams. The shelter's budget has gone up from about $500,000 to about $850,000 a year, largely from the increased use of the motel program the last few years. But Keeser pointed out that the shelter's federal funding for transitional housing hasn't changed since 1994.
"Our transitional house is very unusual, because it is a shelter but they can stay longer," she said. "It's not funded as an emergency shelter, but to serve our community, we do put people up there and we do put them up in emergency and fast as we can we get them into there. But right now we can't get them out of there."
That means there's a shortage of beds and decision to turn to local motels for emergency shelter. Keeser said they are looking at the potential of using one motel as a permanent shelter and a house on Bracewell Avenue as a youth shelter. The only other option is for people to go to Pittsfield, which can be a long trek by bus and takes people away from the services and support circles they may already have established in North County.
The goal is to help people find situations that best address their need. For some, it may be a ticket back to their hometown, for others, getting them into permanent or transitional house, finding resources, getting them in touch with necessary services and finding landlords who are willing to give them a chance. Keeser estimated Louison House has contacts with 300 to 500 people a year.
"The housing situation is really, really hard. Even if we have somebody with a voucher, there are folks who don't have the best credit history or the best income or just lousy housing history or no housing history and the get to the back of the list with landlords," Keeser said. "So we have to work really hard with landlords to try to make them succeed when they get into housing."
Barrett recalled how the community had come together to raise money to buy the original Louison House, named for founder Theresa Louison, and the support it had received from the city, particularly former City Councilor Alan Marden.
"This isn't the greatest thing where we have to talk about the homeless, but it's a problem that we faced in this community for many years," he said. "But it's a good day in the sense that we're doing something to address a problem not only in our community, but the entire community."
Mayor Jennifer Macksey also spoke on the contribution, through the former Thomas Bernard administration, of $50,000 from the city's $2 million in ARPA funds; Michael Goodwin of shelter's board, thanked the Williamstown Select Board for its contribution.
But Keeser noted that the need for shelter won't disappear in the spring when the weather gets warmer.
"It is a community issue and Louison House is funneling through this money that's going to help for now, but we have got to worry about the rest of the year and the rest of the time and finding housing for these people," she said.
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BFAIR Helps Place Flags on Veterans' Graves in Southview
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Members of Berkshire Family & Individual Resources (BFAIR) spent Saturday morning placing flags on veterans' graves in Southview Cemetery
"This is absolutely wonderful that we were able to get some of our people out to help with the flags," Community Based Day Services (CBDS) Assistant Director Kristin Neep said. "... A lot of people give to us and a lot of people support us in many different ways…so this means a lot."
Neep said they take on most volunteering efforts the community throws at them. They have sold poppies for the VFW as well as participated in Wreaths Across America, Meals on Wheels and Adopt a Highway.
Neep said the volunteer program helps build employment skills for BFAIR clients.