|Chrystal Kornegay (left), head of DHCD, listens to discussion about the NOAH Shelter.|
NOAH’s got to go,” read one recent headline on the front page of the Cape Cod Times. On talk radio and social media, the conversation regarding the HAC shelter has been just as provocative with some blaming NOAH for downtown Hyannis’ ills as it relates to homelessness.
All of this discussion, some of it inflammatory, prompted Chrystal Kornegay, undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and Rose Evans, the deputy undersecretary, to pay a visit to Hyannis at the end of August to better understand the microscope being placed on the shelter and the public push to have it moved away from Main Street.
The push is being led by several organizations that include the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID), the Barnstable Police Department and the Greater Hyannis Area Civic Association, all groups that have worked closely with HAC in the creation of the Day Center which opened in May 2014.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been to a city or town that has said, ‘Please send me your homeless,’” Ms. Kornegay said. “This is not unusual… But I don’t know if the way you’re running the shelter is necessarily the problem.”
A few days earlier, HAC CEO Rick Presbrey acknowledged that in its 31-year history the NOAH Shelter has never been popular. “Essentially, the NOAH Shelter becomes the focus for everyone’s objections about homelessness,” he explained.
While those objections may be at an all-time high, Presbrey said, HAC has no plans to shut down the 60-bed shelter, particularly when there are people in need of its services.
Greg Bar, director of the NOAH Shelter, touted the facility’s importance, noting it is the only emergency shelter open to the homeless in a 50-mile radius. “We clearly help people transition from a bad time in their lives to a better time in their lives: health care-wise, employment-wise and housing-wise,” he said.
Presbrey termed the shelter a moral imperative, a phrase he borrowed from board member Nate Rudman, and proudly viewed its operation as an issue of social justice. Aside from HAC, he said, “nobody would run the shelter on day one and nobody would run it right now. We do the important things no one will.”
Still, he understands the community’s desire to move the shelter and was willing to work towards a solution that could ultimately benefit those NOAH serves. Presbrey admitted the current space is not necessarily conducive to the types of programs HAC wants to run there. “We are very limited by the facility in terms of what we can do for the day program,”Presbrey told Ms. Kornegay. “If the community wants to move it, I’m willing to move it as long as we can do wraparound services in a comprehensive way. We want to make this better and improve the situation everyone is complaining about.”
Realistically, Presbrey anticipated such a move would take roughly 18 months based upon financing, permitting and any necessary construction work. As to whether the proposal would fully address downtown Hyannis’ homeless issues, he was unsure. “My conscious doesn’t allow me to say that this will solve all of our problems,” he said.
Following their meeting with HAC, Ms. Kornegay and Ms. Evans met with Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald, Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID), and Mark Sexton, executive vice president of the Bank of Cape Cod, to listen to their concerns as it relates to the NOAH Shelter.
Afterwards, Ms. Evans said she was optimistic that all can work towards a solution that would ultimately benefit the community. “In order for this to be successful, everyone needs to work together and support one another as we look at site options,” Ms. Evans said.