January 17, 2018

Meeting Summary:

More than 75 citizens, social services professionals, and advocates gathered at the Central Congregational Church in Newburyport to continue the discussion about solutions to address homelessness in the greater Newburyport area. The intent of the meeting was to outline major focus areas, establish priorities, and create a process for moving forward. Discussion groups were created around the following subject areas, with a summary of their discussion, questions and recommendations outlined below:

  • Brown school: The group encouraged everyone to gather information on the current proposal for use of the  school and to promote attendance at the meeting on January 25 at the school gym at 7:30 pm. Outstanding questions/issues include:
    • Status of current plan: affordable housing, transitional?
    • Proposal to co-locate youth services and senior housing
    • Number of units for affordable housing vs. partial
    • “not in my backyard” issues, parking issues, zoning issues
  • Local needs: The group discussed gaps in current services and recommended changes to address these gaps, including:
    • Lack of housing inventory, transportation, homeless prevention services, programs to help with upfront housing costs, temporary shelter facilities.
    • Recommendations to partner with local businesses/banks to establish a corporate fund.
    • Recommend hiring a paid homeless advocate for each town
    • Need improved coordination between social service agencies
  • Defining the population: This group discussed the need to define the targeted population. Potential populations:
    young professionals, single parents, service workers who can’t afford to live in the area, seniors,  those coming out of transitional housing including recently released from prison, and not depending on sobriety for admission. Additional criteria could include qualifying income levels and current housing situations.
  • Zoning/housing policy changes: The Housing Authority should be invited to future meetings to inform the group on current zoning regulations, changes proposed to ensure funds are available for affordable housing.
  • Existing models: The group reviewed current models in use locally, including St. Vincent de Paul, Family Promise North Shore, a drop-in day center established in Haverhill. Group recommended that multiple models may be needed because one size doesn’t fit all, but they must be closely coordinated with local social services.
  • Additional stakeholders: This group reviewed additional stakeholders who should be actively involved in the homelessness initiative, including: public entities, social service organizations, religious organizations, local corporations, government representatives, hospitals, advocates and those who may be or have experienced homelessness. We should make it a top priority to clarify our mission, who we want to serve, and be able to articulate that to and educate the community.

Next Steps:

  • Establish small group to plan next meeting. Eight people signed up to help plan the next meeting. They have each other’s emails and will go from there. 
  • Review results from January 2018 homeless count when available to inform the group and prioritize the needs of the homeless locally.

January 10, 2018

Meeting Draws a Big Crowd to Address Homelessness

On January 10, 2018 it was standing room only at a meeting in Newburyport on homelessness, organized by Pennies for Poverty and the Justice Action Ministry at the First Religious Society, with support from the Community Task Force (a network of Social Service Agencies). One hundred and fifteen people filled the room, including representatives from many of the local social service agencies, churches, reporters, and concerned citizens. Also present were Mayor Donna Holaday from Newburyport, former city councilor Ed Cameron, and some folks who had powerful stories of what it’s like to be homeless in the area.

John Feehan, executive director of the YWCA Greater Newburyport, gave a sobering report of those who are homeless  in the area. There are some folks who live under river bridges, but most live in hotels and motels, double-up in apartments (putting their hosts at risk for eviction), and couch surf. Each year the YWCA Greater Newburyport conducts a One Night Homeless Count. The goal of the count is to raise awareness of homelessness within the community, as well as to supply HUD with information about the population of homeless individuals in Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Salisbury and Amesbury. The One Night Homeless Count is performed throughout the country by volunteers and agencies committed to reducing the pain caused by homelessness and ultimately eliminating homelessness. To view last year’s homeless count results, see the report. Feehan invited people to participate in the annual one-night homeless count taking place this year on January 31, 3 to 5 PM. Contact the Y is you want to help.

Russell Queen, executive director of Family Promise North Shore in Beverly, shared their successful model of helping homeless families. Several churches in the area work together, and each church hosts a family for a whole week a few times a year. Space is fitted out with cots and mattresses. During that one week, up to four families can sleep there. Volunteers do all the staffing at the churches, and the agency provides a day center for parents who don’t have jobs and or have little children not in school. Support services are provided there. Kids are transported from the churches to school.

Representatives of the North End Boat Club, moved by the article in the newspaper, presented a check for $1,000 to Pennies for Poverty as seed money for this new initiative.

After the presentations, there were 45 minutes of questions, discussing zoning laws, more details about the national family promise model, and a request from Ed Cameron for folks to call state Senator Ives and Representative Kelcourse to vocalize your thoughts on zoning reform. Cameron commented that if just ten people from the room called it would make a difference.The phone number is 617-722-2000.

Mayor Holaday asked people to support the Brown School affordable housing project by coming to a meeting at the school on January 25 at 7 PM.

A follow up meeting is scheduled for Wednesday Jan 17th at the Central Congregational Church. The intention for this next step is to break into working groups to do additional research, understand more about local needs, and identify ways the group can have an impact. We will continue to focus as well on educating and informing the public.