On March 1, the Best Western in Concord will begin to host homeless families in some, or all, of its 105 rooms. The state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is relocating the families from other shelters.
A key element of the state program is the existence of an on-site service provider, in this case a Fitchburg-based organization called Making Opportunity Count (MOC).
The umbrella organization offers a variety of poverty programs aimed at giving families in need a leg up. The website’s opening page includes a quote from President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 State Of the Union when he declared a War on Poverty.
On the site, the MOC offers its strategic goals – all focused on aiding families in need, including access to health care, early childhood education and childcare, employment assistance and access to affordable housing.
The affordable housing component is key. According to the website rentdata.org, Massachusetts is listed as the third-highest rent in the nation, with a two-bedroom apartment in western Worcester county averaging $976 a month; the same apartment costs, on average, $2,336 in the Concord area.
The shelter at the Best Western will, according to the Concord FAQ page, meet three housing needs:
- Provide temporary housing for 3 – 5 days while more permanent housing is located.
- Provide temporary housing for 2 – 4 months when more permanent housing isn’t readily available; and
- Provide temporary housing for pregnant women and infants.
One local organization waiting to help is Maynard-based Open Table. According to Executive Director Alexandra DePalo, the group has reached out to Concord officials offering help.
“The way we left it was they would reach back out to us as soon as they know what the need might be,” she said.
The organization provides food, either as groceries for people to fix themselves, prepared, frozen meals or as children’s snack bags.
“We asked them to let us know what we can do, and we’d be happy to do it,” DePalo said.
Earlier, a DHCD spokesperson called the idea of housing families in motels and hotels less than ideal, but considering the shortage of affordable rental properties, there are no other choices.
State Sen. Michael Barrett pointed out the rooms at Best Western have private bathrooms and access to kitchen facilities, making them a reasonable temporary solution.
According to the DHDC spokesperson, the state has a contract with Best Western for 105 rooms, but that does not mean 105 families will appear on March 1. The move-in will be phased, and the hope is not all 105 rooms will be needed before more permanent solutions are found.
The town was first approached about the shelter in late January. The state does not require local permission to open emergency shelters, but has tried to work with the town through the process.“The general feedback I’m getting is cautiously supportive of the effort,” Sen. Barrett said in an earlier conversation. “I’ve been able to reassure them that DHCD is not a faceless bureaucracy that is acting capriciously.”