Haverhill Leaders Search for Help with Homelessness as COVID-19 Stretches Resources

Emmaus in Haverhill. (Courtesy photograph.)

Council Vice President Colin F. LePage. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill city councilors want regional and state help in easing the crisis of homelessness—especially during the era of COVID-19.

The Council, led by Council Vice President Colin F. LePage, unanimously agreed last week to reach out to Mayor James J. Fiorentini, the state legislative delegation and surrounding cities and towns for help. Jeanine Murphy, CEO of Emmaus House, said her organization’s programs are being stretched to their limits this year as a result of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing.

“Normally, in the wintertime, we can go up to 45 people, but we’re not going to be able to do that this winter because we’re at our max in terms of maintaining social distancing and safe protocols,” she explained.

Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro said Haverhill currently lacks a so-called “wet” shelter, where people who are homeless and under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be taken rather than being taken into custody.

“The majority of these people that we come in contact with, they’re either alcohol or drug, under the influence and we don’t have a wet facility and they’re not eligible to go into the Emmaus House,” said DeNaro.

Gretchen Arntz of Emmaus responded the organization’s Mitch’s Place has traditionally served as an overnight wet shelter, but has had to temporarily alter its admission policies due to the coronavirus.

LePage introduced the topic by citing statistics which show that on any given day there are more than 15,000 homeless persons in Massachusetts. As to what the city can do to help with the problem, LePage outlined four steps that could be taken, including reinstating the affordable housing zoning ordinance, changing the affordable criteria definition from 80 percent or less to 50 percent or less, creating affordable housing partnerships and partnering with Mass Housing.

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua speculated the problem may be more than Haverhill can handle on its own.

“I simply don’t believe there is enough Community Development Block Grant money in the entire CDBG budget to provide for homeless shelters, and I think we have to hit this issue on a regional basis because I simply don’t believe that we have the ability to handle it entirely on our own,” he said.

For his part, the mayor told the Council he will form a task force to take a look at the issue.

Comments are closed.