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.
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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 allowedJohn 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.