When Tropical Storm Irene hit Williamstown in late August of 2011, a community was lost. It was lost not only to those individuals who were forced to move out and relocate, most outside the borders of Williamstown, but also to those individuals who remained in the Spruces, a spot that no longer resembled the place they called home and a place where they can no longer safely remain.
One of the things I hear most often from those individuals affected by Tropical Storm Irene is their loss of community. Whether they have temporarily been able to return to the Spruces, or have had to move out of Williamstown, these individuals miss the community they had at the Spruces.
Not only have many of these folks lost their homes, but also the sense of closeness they felt with their neighbors at the Spruces. A community of 225 homes is now one of 66. Empty lots, half-torn down homes, and abandoned mobile homes dot the landscape of this neighborhood which once was a home to over 300 individuals.
The community at the Spruces was very active. There was a strong sense of neighbor helping neighbor. People walked around the park and engaged with their neighbors. They especially enjoyed having pets. A recreation hall (which is now closed due to storm damage), and an outdoor pool, (also closed) both provided common areas for residents to gather. These individuals felt a sense of ownership to their community within the park.
Residents who moved into the Spruces, made a clear choice to live somewhere that afforded them their own plot of land with lawns to mow, and gardens to weed. They wanted to have their own space. This is the type of community the town seeks to replace and the Lowry property provides the best opportunity to help these individuals find their community again.
I have spent most of my adult life working in the field of social services. I come from a world where people don’t get services because there is not enough funding. In this case, in Williamstown, we are being presented with a rare opportunity. Our town has received a grant from FEMA. These funds will give those who have lost their community a chance to start over in Williamstown. We have a unique opportunity to make something great happen here. As members of the Williamstown community we should embrace this opportunity, and work as a "community" to make it happen. It is important to keep these individuals, who chose to make Williamstown their home, here, within our town boundaries. They are part of this community and should be given the opportunity to remain.
Due to the scarcity of affordable housing, many of these people have had to leave Williamstown to locate housing that they can afford. Some are living in places that do not meet their needs. These former residents have not only lost their immediate community of the Spruces, but their larger community of Williamstown as well. Isn’t it right that the larger community of Williamstown work toward replacing that sense of community? We owe it to these individuals to provide the best our town has to offer. SUSAN PUDDESTER