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Officials, organizations team up against homelessness

By Jonathan Phelps / MetroWest Daily News
It takes a team effort to make sure those living on the street have a warm place to stay in the blistering cold.
Often times, a homeless person doesn’t know that a cold snap will linger for days and they try to brave it, said Kelly Hagerty, community intervention specialist in Framingham. Many organizations, religious and police departments pull together to look out for those looking for shelter.
“I think the biggest challenge is making sure the homeless know there are options,” she said. “It is getting word out to them we can provide shelter.”
The cold will be sticking around into the new year with temperatures dipping below zero with the windchill. A variety of town workers lend a hand, including police, firefighters and public works staff to help people who don’t have a place to stay.
“We try to be proactive,” Hagerty said.
Hagerty said Mayor-Elect Yvonne Spicer has the issue on her radar and she’s looking forward to working on issues with the new administration.
In growing up in Framingham and working in social services for more than 20 years in town, she’s seen the problem firsthand. The age and gender of the homeless across the region varies.
“The problem has grown. Our population is growing,” she said. “Framingham has always been a hub (for the homeless population.”
Some people will turn down transitional housing because it’s not in the town they want.
“They want some sort of connection,” Hagerty said.
Many town in MetroWest and the Milford area work closely with South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) when it comes to emergency housing. The cold hit much sooner than it normally would, but the organization is ready with its winter protocols.
“If people show up we make room for them,” Beth Connolly, director of Common Grounds Resource Center, told the Daily News earlier this week. “Even if it’s just a mat on the floor with a blanket.
The Gan Rivkah Center in Milford has 32 beds and provides housing for women and families across the country affected by personal and natural disasters. The shelter also welcomes pets.
United Way of Tri-County President Paul Mina says all organizations and community officials work together in Framingham to tackle homelessness.
“Framingham is very proactive,” he said. “I’ve worked here for 27 years. We are not a community that turns away from the problem.”
While the cold continues to settle in, Mina said he has not received any calls for a need for a warming center.
“They can use our building as a warmer shelter, but we haven’t had to do that so far this winter,” he said.
Mina said officials also know who are “treatment resistant” and would rather stay outdoors despite the danger.
“There is nothing you can do short of arresting them,” he said. “Everyone in Framingham does their best to get those people to come in. There is no way to force them to come in.”
A number of issues could prevent a homeless person from seeking the help they need, including past trauma as a child or serving in the military.
“They might be nervous about how the shelter might be or their perception of it,” Hagerty said. “Maybe they’ve had a bad experience?”
She encouraged people to look in on their elderly neighbors to make sure they have heat.
Daily News staff writer Scott Calzolaio contributed to this report.
Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 508-626-4338 or Follow him on Twitter @JPhelps_MW.