Homeless aid renewed for Berkshires

Federal formulas rank urban homelessness as more in need than rural areas

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Programs that provide long-term housing for the homeless in Berkshire County this week secured renewals of federal grants worth more than $1 million.

The grants arrive just weeks before teams will range out across the Berkshires for an annual count of the number of homeless people.

The money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will allow three agencies to continue to address chronic homelessness in 2017 — but only at the same levels as they did this year, said Dave Christopolis, executive director of the Hilltown Community Development Corp. in Chesterfield.

The CDC handled the HUD application on behalf of housing groups in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties.

Overall, the HUD grants for Massachusetts announced Wednesday total $69.4 million and will aid 277 homeless housing and service programs.

Federal funding continues to rank the problem of urban homelessness as more in need of money than less-populated regions like Western Massachusetts, Christopolis said, making it hard for regional programs to expand their offerings.

"Before a rural area like ours that has pretty low numbers," he said of the way HUD sets its priorities. But he noted that this region also lags in available services to address homelessness.

"It's a bit of a bogus thing," he said. "We're always going to be at a slight disadvantage."

The following Berkshire County programs won renewal funding:

- $770,870 to ServiceNET Inc. to support three programs in Pittsfield. They include Our Friend's House, a family shelter ($35,645); the Summer Street program for single-occupancy housing ($166,023); and the Three County PSH ($569,202).

- $226,105 to Louison House for the 22-bed shelter known as the Louison House in Adams ($139,091); and the six-unit Family Life Support Permanent Housing apartments in North Adams ($87,014).

- $65,050 to Construct Inc. in Great Barrington for its Adult Independent Living program, a 10-bed transitional housing program that accepts people for up to 24 months ($43,412); and Project Reach, a three-unit apartment house ($21,638).

The HUD grants were level-funded in part because the most recent "fair market rent" calculation does not allow private landlords who provide the housing to the human-services agencies to increase what they charge.

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The only new regional funding secured this week to address homelessness will be used by the CDC to plan for and administer the HUD grants. Another allotment of $80,079 will be used specifically to manage data collected Jan. 25, when housing programs and volunteers in the three-county area the CDC represents will conduct a yearly street-level tally of the homeless.

The Berkshires count will be conducted by the three agencies receiving HUD renewals, joined by others.

Next month's survey may turn up more homeless people than last year, Christopolis said, but only because the effort intends to be more thorough.

"I think they're going to be similar to last year," he said of the final numbers.

In bad weather, the yearly count is postponed. "A snowstorm can knock the whole thing off," he said.

Wendy Krom, lead organizer with Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, said the nearly 2-year-old group held a "listening campaign" this year on affordable housing and homelessness. The point was to gauge how the group's members should use their time and resources to confront the problems.

"I think that it's more pervasive in the Berkshires than most people think. That's the big takeaway," Krom said of homelessness.

In 2016, the one-night "point in time" census of homelessness counted 19,608 people in Massachusetts.

In a statement, Julian Castro, the HUD secretary, said the grants are deployed to support "proven strategies" to end homelessness.

Jim Reed, the regional HUD administrator, said recipients all work on the front lines to provide shelter for people who would otherwise be on the streets.

The strategies being followed were shaped by the 19 federal programs that make up the Interagency Council on Homelessness. That effort took shape after President Obama set a federal goal in 2010 to end homelessness among veterans in 2016, for the chronically homeless in 2017 and for children and families by 2020.

Housing activists point to progress against homelessness in Western Massachusetts. Veterans' homelessness is down 25 percent, chronic homelessness by 36.6 percent and family homelessness by 28.6 percent since 2010, HUD reports.

In a progress report last spring, the Network to End Homeless, which runs the "housing first" program for Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties, said it had found permanent housing for 357 homeless veterans and aided the development of 106 new units of supportive housing for veterans.

On the family front, the network said it had seen the number of families living in motels fall from 284 to 49 in the three-county region and secured housing for 108 chronically homeless people.


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