Hyannis Civic hears promises of progress on homelessness
Members applaud after Presbrey’s presentation
Any night Rick Presbrey admits he can be a little pig-headed is bound to be an interesting one.
That admission was one of the highlights of a standing-room-only meeting of more than 60 Greater Hyannis Civic Association members and guests at the Steamship Authority terminal Jan. 25. The evening included an update from Presbrey, CEO of Housing Assistance Corporation, on reducing beds at the NOAH Center for the homeless, and often-complimentary commentary from neighborhood residents and NOAH critics.
Even livelier exchanges led off the meeting, as members of the town’s growth management staff presented options for redoing the intersection of Ocean and South streets and Old Colony above Aselton Park. The upshot: most seemed to agree with Jeannette Chilli: “If it doesn’t itch, why y’all scratching?”
The signal system at the busy intersection is approaching its use-by date, and ways to time a replacement for maximum efficiency were batted about. Any change that cut off any of the access tricks residents have learned drew opposition, but some who live south of South Street complained about the afternoon backups on Ocean Street when the ferries, tour boats, and fishing vessels disembark their passengers. Others said they were content to wait because the busy-ness is good for business.
The town’s growth management director, Jo Anne Miller Buntich, took it all in and promised residents would hear again before any changes were made.
Changes in Store
Presbrey ran through the process that brought about an advisory committee report on ways to realign services at NOAH and reduce beds, with community support for other alternatives. He singled out unofficial member Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District, as a “positive force.”
Two key practices have been put in place, Presbrey said: an assessment of service needs of all guests within one business day of their arrival at the North Street shelter, and a new policy of not accepting people from off-Cape.
“People get to stay there one night,” he said. Then arrangements are made to return them to their originating communities, with attention paid to hooking them up with services there.
“There isn’t a shelter nearby on the other side of the bridge,” Presbrey said in explaining why off-Cape homeless people come here in the first place. But he affirmed that NOAH is intended to serve residents of Barnstable, Dukes (Martha’s Vineyard) and Nantucket counties.
The next step, which is under way but not fully implemented, is setting a maximum stay limit for individuals at NOAH. Now, he said, the average stay is 11 days, but there are some who have become accustomed to living at the shelter.
“We want to make sure they know there’s a deadline,” Presbrey said.
These people will need some place to go – housing and jobs – and Presbrey said Housing Assistance has raised funds to help make that happen. He spoke proudly of HAC’s full-time housing person, who he said has found homes for 100 people in a year. A new hire will concentrate on finding part-time jobs, including mentorships and internships, that will be supported in part by the agency.
Presbrey praised the efforts of Homeless Not Helpless, Inc., to secure a third residence for formerly homeless people, but said the town’s regulations make such arrangements difficult to achieve.
With all these programs in place, Presbrey said, HAC will work toward reducing the number of beds in the shelter from 60 to 40 by June 2012.
“Is that an iron-clad commitment?” he asked. “I hope we’ll make it.” He noted a 200-bed shelter in Worcester has reduced its census to 60 and expects to close by the end of the month.
“We’re trying to keep people alive here,” Presbrey said. “If there are unintended consequences, we want to deal with that. I was a little bit pig-headed about it.”
Audience members praised Presbrey but also used the occasion to raise concerns about the persistence of camps of the homeless in wooded areas not far from downtown and their homes. Councilor Greg Milne recalled the town’s bulldozing of the camps more than five years ago and said, “The camp issue is the issue that has to be put to bed.”
Several speakers, including Presbrey and Wurfbain, praised the street and camp outreach work of Tom Naples. Naples, who was recently hired by the Duffy Health Center, has agreed to work with the Cape Cod Council of Churches Street Outreach Ministry on nights and weekends.
The Council announced this week that it has received a $5,000 grant from the Edward Bangs Kelley and Elza Kelley Foundation for its Overnights of Hospitality case management services. Its Bridge to Hope program received two grants from the Cape Cod Foundation: $7,500 from the Jean B. Edgerly Memorial Fund and the Jesse & Juanita Grimes Fund and $13,000 from the Great Expectations Fund.