In response to the debate in Amherst stemming from the loss of their homeless shelter operator, the Western Mass. Network provided this letter to the editor below, which was published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin on August 5, 2011:
Network ready to help Amherst aid the homeless
To the editor:
The Amherst community faces both a challenge and an opportunity in the recent loss of its shelter provider. The challenge is obvious: They must find a new operator and ensure their emergency shelter is up and running before the cold descends. The opportunity may be less apparent but has already been recognized by town officials: a chance to reexamine the town’s organizational and programmatic response to homelessness.
The Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness is at the ready to assist where it can. One place to start is by promoting its mission: to end homelessness through housing. While shelter is a critical emergency resource, experience here in Massachusetts and across the nation has demonstrated that “housing first” is the best and most effective response to homelessness, not shelter. Appropriate support services are also critical, but providing a home first is the real key to lasting success.
The Western Mass. Network to End Homelessness looks forward to continuing its partnership and support to turn the quest for shelter into the celebration of housing for all who need it. This will take investment across our communities, from elected officials to business and education leaders and to all who are working the front lines on this crisis. Thanks to Amherst for working so hard to do its part.
Pamela Schwartz is director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness.