Forum speakers hope to address homelessness issue ‘holistically’

  • Homeless residents pack up their tents and belongings on the Greenfield Common in 2018. Homelessness and the challenges homeless people face to secure housing was the focus of a virtual forum on Wednesday. Staff File Photo/Dan Little

  • Homeless residents camped out on the Greenfield Common in 2018 to call attention to the problem. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2021 1:36:06 PM
Modified: 5/2/2021 1:36:05 PM

GREENFIELD — Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR) continued their housing forum series Wednesday afternoon, this time focusing on homeless people in the county and beyond and the challenges they face to secure housing.

Featured speakers during the most recent virtual forum, “Homelessness: Our Housing Crisis and Call to Action,” were Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn in Boston; Shaundell Diaz, coordinated entry specialist for Community Action Pioneer Valley; and Keleigh Pereira, program director for Three County Continuum of Care.

The three spoke about how a “moment-in-time snapshot” can be taken of the homeless in any community at any time, but the root causes are what need to be addressed by that community, and those can include addiction, abuse, loss of a job, eviction, mental illness, physical illness and more.

Diaz and Pereira said emergency shelters and transitional housing did what they could during the COVID-19 pandemic, but public health rules didn’t allow for as many to share spaces. Additionally, people had to deal with eviction notices, and while the state did put a moratorium on evictions —– that moratorium ended in October — it’s not clear what will happen in the future. When the state moratorium expired, a federal moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became effective through June 30 for qualified tenants who submit a written declaration to landlords.

Courts will accept filings, process cases and may enter judgments, but will not issue an order of execution — the court order that allows a landlord to evict a tenant — until after the CDC order expires. Protection is limited to households who meet certain income and vulnerability criteria.

The speakers at Wednesday’s forum agreed that equity to housing access is essential in Franklin County and Western Massachusetts.

Pereira explained there is “acute” homelessness, where someone has recently become homeless and is couch surfing, for instance, and chronic homelessness, where someone has been homeless for sometimes many years.

“We need to look at housing options,” Pereira said. “We need to work with partners — shelters and transitional housing — for youths and adults.”

Diaz said people need to engage in advocacy. Although homelessness won’t be solved overnight, she said, the work needs to start now.

“We need to address the issue holistically,” Pereira said. “We need to look for legislative support and an increase in money for housing, and we need more people to get involved.”

“We need to listen to the lived experience of others,” Diaz said.

Both speakers said municipal leaders, developers and landlords also have to be involved.

Emily Greene, moderator of the homelessness forum, said while everyone is focusing mostly on adults with addictions and other issues, as well as youths, they also need to think about the elderly, some of whom need help staying in their homes.

“Some are living strictly on Social Security and can’t afford it,” she said. “This too will be a tsunami if something isn’t done before that happens.”

Downie spoke about what the Pine Street Inn has done in Boston, suggesting that Franklin County look to the government for help financially and with legislation. She said there is government money available to purchase properties to create affordable housing for those who can’t seem to find any.

The three said organizations should be working with housing authorities, senior centers, independent living facilities, nursing homes and anyone else they can think of.

“At some point, the pandemic will end, but the effects of it won’t, so we need to be ready,” Pereira said.

She, Diaz and Downie said everyone needs to take not only a “broad-stroke” approach to homelessness, but now start taking a deeper dive and a “finer-look” approach.

“There are people who need housing and can’t get a place to live,” Diaz said. “We need to stay with them so they don’t fall through the cracks.”

Coming forums

Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution will hold the next housing forum on Wednesday, May 5, at 6:30 p.m.

Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey and Greenfield Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams will be the speakers for the forum, “Reclaiming Municipally Owned Abandoned Buildings.”

Two forums will remain after the May 5 forum. “How Do We Pay for the Housing We Want” and “Achieving Affordability with Clean Energy” will be held virtually on May 12 (6:30 p.m.) and May 19 (6:30 p.m.), respectively.

Register for future forums or watch videos of previous ones at

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or

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