The Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness put the call out to leaders across the region to come learn about the Network, its mission and how we can help support them in their efforts to combat homelessness.  They responded in force:  Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, West Springfield Mayor Greg Neffinger, Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, Easthampton Mayor Michael Tautznik, Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin and Amherst Town Manager John Musante all joined over 50 Leadership Council members at the Network’s quarterly meeting at the Springfield Sheraton Hotel yesterday.

Chaired by Lynne Wallace of Dietz &Co. Architects in Springfield and Vice-Chaired by Father Stan Aksamit of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Turners Falls, the gathering demonstrated both the regional strength of the Network and the commitment of our local leaders.

Former Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins, now a Leadership Council member as executive director of Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin regions, spoke to the mayors in attendance, urging them to participate in the regional effort to end homelessness with housing.  Bob Schwarz,  executive vice-president of Peter Pan Bus Lines and a Leadership Council member, advised the mayors to reach out to their local business leaders to enlist them in this effort, noting that ending homelessness is both morally and economically the right thing to do.  Gerry McCafferty, director of the Springfield Housing Department, shared her expertise around Housing First and why and how it works.

Chief among the mayors’ concerns included:  the number of families living in hotels in the region; the cost to communities of transporting homeless children living in motels in one community to their home school in another; the need for greater public education on homelessness, who it impacts and effective community responses; the need for more permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and greater involvement of housing authorities in the provision of housing for homeless individuals and families.

All the elected leaders expressed their desire to partner with the Network.  The Network in turn committed to following-up with each of them to build on the discussion and move towards concrete, coordinated solutions.

It was a proud day for the Network.  Congratulations to all on an exciting step forward!

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