Homelessness and the Schools

Wednesday, April 25, at 7 pm
Central Congregational Church, 14 Titcomb Street, Newburyport

Children account for more than half of local residents and neighbors who lack a secure home. Yet these children — nearly 350 in the Newburyport, Amesbury and Triton school systems — get up and go to school every morning, carrying this uncertainty and instability with them.

What’s the impact?
Studies show constant stress and every-day mobility of homelessness negatively impact both cognitive development and academic performance. Schools, meanwhile, are working to support these children, but many programs are falling short due to lack of support.

Join us on April 25 as school leaders share what they’re doing to support these vulnerable students. You’ll hear how the schools are working to create a caring, supportive and nourishing environment for these children and what we might all do to help.


 Ed Cameron, CEO of Housing Families, Inc . and former Newburyport city councilor


Susan Viccaro, Newburyport Superintendent of Schools and Angela Bik,
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction

James Montanari, Principal, Salisbury Elementary School

Deb Smith, Executive Director, Pettengill House, which supports the children at Amesbury Schools.

When There is No Place to Go


On Tuesday evening, February 27, over 40 concerned citizens gathered to learn more about issues surrounding housing insecure folks throughout the greater Newburyport area, the third meeting held since early January to educate and engage the community to find solutions for homelessness.

Moderator Lea Pearson, of the Justice Action Ministry from the Unitarian Universalist church, kicked off the meeting by introducing the new Hope in Action Initiative, “The HOPE sub-group was formed out of the larger community meetings to cultivate a caring community around solutions for relieving Housing insecurity by finding Opportunities for involvement through Partnerships and Education.” Pearson added, “The group is made up of community members with varied backgrounds (including some who were formerly homeless), who are focused on educating the greater community about the nature and extent of area homelessness, communicating its shared humanity and – working with the professional social service agencies – providing an avenue for volunteering in assisting the housing insecure.”

The first speaker for the evening, Christopher George of the Amesbury Council on Aging, led the area’s one-night homeless count in late January. He expects the YWCA, the lead organization on the count, to issue the final report later this spring. “This year’s homeless count, which is still being compiled, appears to be somewhat down from last year, but remains well in excess of 400, including over 300 school-aged children.” He added, “The small drop from last year is attributed to the closing of the Turning Point Transitional Housing Facility in Amesbury, which had temporarily welcomed 30 housing insecure individuals.” He went on to coach the volunteers by stating, “To solve the homeless problem, you need a plan to succeed; I have witnessed veterans’ homelessness deep in the process of being solved and after years of non-action, a plan was made; you got to plan!”

“Homelessness is a changing experience,” articulated Reverend Tom Bentley, Executive Director for Gloucester’s Grace Center and the second speaker at the event. The Grace Center is a day resource center serving individuals currently experiencing homelessness or who are experiencing loneliness, old age, high risk situations or crisis. “The center provides gifts of acceptance, hospitality, and opportunity to all who come through its doors,” according to Bentley. He encouraged the group to do a needs analysis, saying, “We knew there were issues with homelessness in our community, they were knocking on my parish door.” He added, “Before getting started to tackle the problem, I and other area clergy knew we should not assume what was needed; we should listen, research and engage professionals in a needs analysis, and so we pooled $5000 and got it done right, ultimately leading to the opening of the Grace Center.”

Christine Bobek, Bentley’s associate, Grace Center’s Director of Social Services and a trained, licensed social-worker, talked about the importance of leadership and action in making things happen for those challenged in life. She explained, “Don’t wait for the money. Find the need, make a plan and get started!” She stressed the importance of volunteers, “Yes, we have professionals like myself and Tom, but most of Grace Center’s programs are administered by well-trained volunteers; they get the work done and form the framework for helping those in need.”

State Representative James Kelcourse (First Essex District) attended the meeting and described a recent personal engagement he had with folks in the area struggling to find housing. He and his wife met a homeless couple camped out in their car in Amesbury. Kelcourse immediately found temporary shelter for the couple and worked with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army on the couple’s behalf. Excitedly, he reported, “Recently, while stopping for a Dunkin’ break, I was pleased to see that the gentlemen who had been sleeping in the car, now had a job.” Kelcourse went on to say, “My office stands ready to assist this initiative of HOPE in any way we can. Please keep me posted; I want to help.”

The Initiative took names of those looking to volunteer and hopes to match them to local social service agencies. Volunteers are encouraged to visit volunteermatch.org and register their interests and skills. Future educational forums organized by Hope in Action Initiative are planned for late March and late April.

Progress Since the Second Meeting….

Two small groups have formed from attendees at the January community meetings on homelessness. Their joint goal is to take concrete action to help people experiencing homelessness in Newburyport, Amesbury, Salisbury, Newbury and Rowley before year end.

  • One group is made up of local clergy and practitioners from social service agencies that serve the homeless. Their focus is to identify the gaps in services and prioritize what action will be taken.
  • The other group is made up of community members with varied backgrounds, including some who were formerly homeless. Their focus is to educate about the nature and extent of homelessness, communicate its shared humanity and provide an avenue for volunteering.

We will keep you informed about progress as we move forward. We ask that you stay involved by attending the community meetings that we’ll hold throughout the spring and by signing up to volunteer on one of the “crews” we are putting together to take action in areas where help is needed.

Second Meeting on Homelessness: 1/17/2018

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. Take a moment to learn more about affordable housing with this primer: What Affordable Housing Means  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: City officials 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.