By G. Michael Dobbs
The Econolodge in Chicopee is one of the motels in that city and Holyoke that have been used to house homeless families.
Reminder Publications file photo
Although the state official who is overseeing placing homeless families into motels believes the current number will be going down, two local mayors are concerned about the continuing impact of the policy.
Aaron Gornstein, the undersecretary for the Massachusetts department of Housing & Community Development, admitted to Reminder Publications last week the state has lost ground in its efforts to end the program of housing homeless families in motels.
“We were making great progress,” Gornstein said. He noted the Commonwealth’s plan was to end the program by June 2013. By early 2013 the program was down 30 percent.
Over the summer months, though there was a “spike in demand” due to what Gornstein listed as a variety of causes. He said “economic circumstances” caused the state to have no other option. Homelessness was the resulted of evictions due to unemployment, and domestic violence.
One of the key factors was the federal freeze on housing assistance and Section Eight voucher, he stressed.
Gornstein said the Commonwealth is now working to reduce those numbers once more.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said he has been “disappointed” with the increase of occupancy on the Holyoke Hotel and Day’s Inn with homeless families. He said the practice increases school transportation cost for the city and has educational impacts in the school system.
He is also concerned with one of the city’s largest tourism events, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and how it will be affected if there are no hotel rooms available in the city.
He would like to see better communication between state officials placing people in Holyoke hotels and the city.
“There are creative ways to solve the problem,” he asserted and called for greater collaboration.
Morse said the program adds a “burden” to the city.
Mayor Richard Kos of Chicopee said that he is forming a task force of city officials representing the schools and public safety to address some of the problems caused by the program.
Kos said that he is also asking state Rep. Joseph Wagner to become involved with seeking solutions.
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