|Homeless Outreach Specialist Derick Bussiere was one of four HAC staffers to assist the region’s homeless during last month’s stretch of frigid temperatures.
The start of the new year brought with it one of the longest stretches of sub-freezing weather Cape Cod has seen in recent years. While many were able to retreat safely into the comfort of their own homes, there were some in the region who did not have that luxury.
Understanding the danger facing the Cape’s homeless, HAC lent its expertise and resources to a regional effort to get these individuals off the street and into temporary housing. “This was a result of the community, social service agencies, and the town coming together within probably a 24- to 48-hour window and putting together a plan so it would run as smoothly as possible,” HAC Homeless Outreach Specialist Derick Bussiere said. “It was really about life and death.”
The plan involved HAC and several social service agencies – Vinfen, Duffy Health Center, St. Joseph’s House, and the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod – working closely with the Barnstable Police Department, the Town of Barnstable, and local churches to identify homeless individuals on the streets and woods of Cape Cod and moving them into area motels.
Funding for the temporary motel stays was provided by the Barnstable Police Department as well as Duffy Health Center’s In From the Streets, a program started in 2005 to support the homeless.
"It was more than likely people would have died. It was that cold out."
- Ann Marie Peters
HAC’s Homeless Outreach team, which includes Bussiere, Deborah McDonnell and Shannon Tracy, were joined by HAC Assistant Director of Family and Individuals Services Ann Marie Peters in conducting assessments and outreach to homeless individuals staying in hotels. They also provided transportation for the homeless to get to the hotels.
Bussiere estimated that over 30 homeless individuals were placed in area motels, some for as long as 10 days, to keep them safe from the arctic temperatures.
Last month’s weather, Bussiere said, enabled HAC staff to reconnect with some of the region’s chronic homeless who are typically harder to reach. “It does bring some of them out of the woodwork where we as outreach workers are able to try and engage with the individuals at that time they’re in the hotel or shelter,” he said. “After the weather gets nicer, they may disappear, but at least we’re able to make contact and put a name to a face and start building a relationship for when the individual is ready to try and get services.”
The most important aspect of the community effort, Peters said, is that everyone had access to safe, secure housing, even if it was temporary. “What would have happened had this group not coordinated services for this population?” she asked. “It is more than likely people would have died. It was that cold out. It was well below freezing and there were many people who would have passed away because they didn’t have adequate shelter.”
In the spring, HAC will join the community groups and agencies involved in last month’s response to identify a long-term plan moving forward.