Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Homeless In A College Town

First Baptist Church, 434 North Pleasant Street

The Housing & Sheltering Committee hosted the unveiling of a report last night done by two area college students over the past semester under the direction of John Hornik dissecting the overall operation of Craig's Doors, the seasonal homeless shelter operated part-time out of the First Baptist Church at the main gateway to UMass.

 John Hornik, Sakshi Bhatnager, Grace Nash

The homeless shelter originally started in 2010 as simply a "warming place", morphed into an overnight shelter run by Milestone Ministries and then became "Craig's Doors".

The facility runs on a $300,000 operation budget, two-thirds from the state and one-third from the town and is open from November until April 30 during New England's most dangerous season of the year, winter.

 Most recent year unique visitors are down, but utilization is up

The shelter has a capacity of 22 beds (16 men, 6 women) and oftentimes turns away two or three potential users, although during particularly bad weather they can get permission from Town Manager John Musante to expand capacity to 34 guests.  

The shelter has a close working relationship with Amherst police who visit nightly just as a courtesy call.  That way should their emergency services be needed residents do not view them as hostile outsiders. 

Year's worth of public safety calls (or about a weekend's calls to students' parties disturbances)

One of the criticisms of the shelter is that it does not enforce a strict policy of alcohol abstention prior to coming into the facility.  This of course can lead to behavior that requires the services of Amherst police.

 Click to enlarge/read

The other drawback that's a concern to downtown businesses is the facility attracts individuals to town who do not have a job or meaningful ways to occupy their time during the day.   Town center becomes a magnet for some of them to hang out ... panhandling, or a roughhousing in such a way as to make potential customers uncomfortable.

Of course the alternative is potential death due to the elements, so the inconvenience of occasional bad behavior is offset by the greater good:  keeping people safe.

 Comparison with Interfaith Cot Shelter in Northampton, a "dry" shelter i.e. no under the influence of alcohol admissions allowed 

John Hornik pointed out that Craig's Doors is safe for a few more years at its current location, but needs a permanent home.

Funding is also not guaranteed as the lion's share comes from the state as "earmarked funds," which means they have to be renewed annually and as such are subject to the vagaries of the state legislature.

Although having state senator Stan Rosenberg about to assume his powerful leadership roll should be comforting.


Adam S said...

Why not move it to one of the warehouses in Holyoke or Chicopee? There are dozens that are sitting empty.

Anonymous said...

"Of course the alternative is potential death due to the elements, so the inconvenience of occasional bad behavior is offset by the greater good: keeping people safe."

I thought the alternative was for people to stay in cities such as Hartford or Springfield that have more facilities and resources to deal with alcohol and drug using homeless rather than coming to Amherst just because we enable them to continue to be abusers.

Anonymous said...

Does Craig's Doors house homeless Amherst residents?

Is the number of homeless Amherst residents rising?

Has there been an increase in problems involving the police downtown?

Where do people go during the day in cold weather?

Where do they go for the rest of the year?

Anonymous said...

Last year there were homeless coming from Boston to stay there.
I also support making it a dry shelter, wet shelters in my opinion support the substance abuse and make it difficult to deal with a few unruly.

Ever been homeless? said...

I am not the most compassionate person but it seems to me that Craig's Doors is doing its job well. I believe that their clients are not as problematic as certain other segments of Amherst population. I suggest we move all the slack-jawed mouth-breathing rednecks from Amherst to Louisiana where they will fit in better with their kin. There are dozens of bayou shacks sitting empty.

Anonymous said...

A permanent shelter could be built next to the town barn on 116. The buses go right by there, what a great location to help the needy.

Anonymous said...

The people pf Louisiana are coming to get you, Bar-ba-rah!!!

keithw said...

Anon 11:53

There aren't too many Amherst residents who are homeless.

Not the number of Amherst residents, but homeless coming in from all over will steadily rise when word spreads (and it does) that Amherst is not only tolerant of homeless panhandling, loitering and etc., but has a wet shelter.

Not so sure about Amherst, but there has been all over the valley. Including: assaults, robberies, public intoxication, loitering and etc.

Often when they have to vacate the shelters in the AM, they can jump on a PVTA and go any place that's warm, eg the malls, Thornes Marketplace, a friend's or just ride around til they get kicked off. I one day overheard a group of panhandlers trying to decide whether or not they should go see a movie.

It's pretty common knowledge that all of the wooded areas abutting the bike trail in Noho & Florence are "campgrounds" for a lot of area homeless during the warmer months. Plus random spots like the overgrown areas around the 91 off ramps also in NoHo.

I'd like to know if the VA hospital and/or Soldier's Home offers housing for homeless veterans seeing as there are so many of them.

Anonymous said...

We have comments here which claim as fact whatever suits their cramped point of view, without ever citing a source.

So all we can conclude is that it's bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Good report!

And, yes, the VA has shelter for homeless veterans. They are encouraged to work; don't know if they must be sober.

Some try to spend the day in the library or Bangs Center.

I know what it was like to give up smoking, and I can't imagine going cold turkey on alcohol or drugs. Remember, most of these people are over 40. There are some younger ones, but they are the exception.

keithw said...

Anon 4:58

Not sure to whom you are referring, but you could volunteer at a soup kitchen for 2 hours and hear everything that I wrote about in my comment. Besides, this is a blog. But if you insist on people citing sources, then I'll be the first.

"I don't know, I ride around on the bus til the driver kicks me off!" Al, the Crackhead.

Anonymous said...

If it costs $300,000 to house 33 people for half a day for 5 months, how much would it cost to house them for a full day for 5 months?

Anonymous said...

Studies have shon this to be true 69% of the time, "many think..." lol

Anonymous said...

Count me in! I'm more than willing to except 1/34 of that $300K.

Anonymous said...

$300,000 plus tax-free status for 33 people comes to at least $30,000 per to house each for half a day for 5 months. And how much does it cost to go to UMass for a year?

Maybe it would be cheaper to send them to UMass...

Anonymous said...

A better calculation is $300,0000 / 4200 bed-nights = $71.42 per bed-night including room and board. I say keep up the good work. This is not an easy population to work with.

Anonymous said...

That's $70K per month to give 33 people a place to sleep, dinner and breakfast.

Anonymous said...

And then send them outside into winter.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Count me in too. I prefer the cash equivalent. Seventy bucks X 30 days. Put it on an EBT card for me ...

Anonymous said...

Is there a rise in homelessness among Amherst residents? Or are people coming to the shelter from other towns because there are beds?

Anonymous said...

Sam Kinison on homelessness...

You give 'em the test. You sit 'em down and you go "Eh, you got any job skills, any career training? Any type of talent for anything that'll help you get a job?"


"Do you have any loved ones, do you have any friends, someone who'll love you enough to take you in, help you get back on your feet, help you fight back?"


"Is there anything left inside of you as a man that wants to get on his two feet and do something to change his world?"


*** BOOM *** I swear to God, the guy behind him is going to go,

"Woah, woah, woah, My God, you're shooting the homeless!....Ok, I'm homeless, I don't have a job. I may have set my career goals a little too high. All right, all right. I was holding out for an executive position. That doesn't look like it's going to happen. Give me a couple of hours, I'll get a paper route, I'll get something. I'll get a job where I take the carts back to the grocery store, don't shoot me!"

The homeless will disapear, that'll be one less problem for America.

Anonymous said...

They're sending themselves out into winter. But by all means, open your home up to as many as you want.

Anonymous said...

Those folks on the traffic much can you make in a day? I might give that a whirl,,,

Anonymous said...

They could really use to make those signs easier to read.