Community Engagement Meeting – September 14, 2011

In attendance:  Jane Banks, CHD, Gerry McCafferty, Springfield Housing, Pamela Schwartz, network coordinator, Lynne Wallace, network chair, Dietz&Co. Architects

As we began to take stock of our role engaging the community in housing first, we spontaneously turned to the happenings in Amherst (reconfiguration of their town committee structure on the homelessness issue) and Northampton (the necessary relocation of the Drop-In Center due to lease ending, as of 5/12).  The committee discussion flowed into a focus on Northampton.

Gerry raised the issue of Northampton focusing exclusively on an expanded resource center instead of a more targeted focus on providing supportive housing to the hardest to house individuals, creating something closer to an emergency triage center.    We discussed whether and how business and provider resources could be dedicated  towards supportive housing,  e.g., through Northampton Housing Authority Section 3 subsidies for this hardest to house population (as done in Springfield) or to build a flexible fund for first/last/security and furniture expenses to help these individuals move in.

Gerry cited the experience of the tornado recovery effort, where with coordination and resources, over 200 families – mostly impoverished –  received housing within a month.  She believes Northampton has a small enough homeless population to allow us to create a plan for housing them, one by one, instead of providing homeless services to them;  that essential to this plan is a willingness to house individuals with alcohol and drug problems (Housing First is not possible with these barriers).  She also strongly suggested that we need data to proceed with the best results, including data on who visits the cot shelter and the drop-in center, how many are chronically homeless or not, what are the nature of their challenges (mental health, substance abuse).  Do we have that already?

Pamela agreed, in her combined role as network coordinator and Northampton city councilor, to bring this discussion to Peg Keller, who also serves in combined roles as Leadership Council member and City of Northampton staff leading this effort.  With a Northampton meeting scheduled for the day following our community engagement meeting, the opportunity could be ripe for bringing this conversation immediately to those involved.  Gerry also agreed to come speak with the group if desired.

Pamela will follow-up with group following contact with Peg.

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