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Morse to meet with Baker about homeless in hotels

Date: 11/21/2014

HOLYOKE – Mayor Alex Morse will be discussing the issue of homeless families being housed in Holyoke hotels with Governor-elect Charles Baker when he meets with the mayor next month.

Morse expressed his concern to Reminder Publications about the limited role cites and towns can play in the process of housing homeless families – many from the eastern part of the state – in hotels locally.

“Obviously we don’t have as many options as we’d like to have,” he said.

He added the practice doesn’t make sense.

Morse was reacting in part to an event on Nov. 13. According to the statement issued by Holyoke Police Lt. Jim Albert, “On Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 at approximately 3:30 p.m., the Holyoke Police Department responded to a call for a fight in the lobby at the Holyoke Hotel at 245 Whiting Farm Road. Upon arrival officers found 40 to 50 people yelling and milling around and pointed to the lobby inside advising the fight was inside. Once inside officers encountered a chaotic scene and located a bloodied, wheel chair bound, 39 year-old male who reported he was knocked from his chair and kicked in the face.

“While assisting this victim, officers called for several more units as back up to quell another fight occurring inside the hotel. This disturbance was over quickly upon arrival of the officers.

“Arrested at the scene was Christian Cardona, age 20, of 245 Whiting Farms Road. Cardona was charged with one count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon – a shod foot.”

Albert concluded, “Although the Holyoke Hotel has hired Holyoke Police to conduct patrols on the grounds during the weekend, no officers were present nor on duty during this incident as the time and date fall outside the limited patrol hours.”

Morse said the he will explore the creation of new ordinances to address some of the issues brought about by the homeless issue and will work with the City Council to extend the police presence at the hotel.

He added the city has to bear the cost of busing homeless children to schools and added the practice of putting families in hotels is "all around bad policy.”

Morse said that in a conversation with Aaron Gornstein, the undersecretary for Housing and Community development, Gornstein admitted the Commonwealth was having trouble finding hotel operators in the eastern part of the state to participate in the program.

He plans to ask other mayors to meet with him to discuss the issues.

In a statement made a day after the incident, Morse said, “I have the utmost confidence in our state delegation’s ability to take this message to Boston. But by calling attention to last night’s incident, I hope to encourage all of our state officials, including our governor-elect, to recognize the inhumanity of the situation these homeless citizens face, as well as the deep unfairness to our community. In a compassionate Commonwealth, our homeless citizens shouldn’t be indefinitely warehoused in hotels and subjected to chaos and violence. And in a just Commonwealth, the burden of addressing homelessness shouldn’t disproportionately fall to one city.

“Until the state acts, I am calling on the owners of the hotel to start contributing their fair share. It is no secret that these owners are profiting from the status quo. Given the likelihood of future violence in the hotel, it is only reasonable that the owners be willing to fund a 24/7 police presence. After all, it is they who are benefiting from this situation – not the taxpayers of Holyoke.”

State Rep. Aaron Vega added, “I join with Mayor Morse in calling for a change in the state’s policy.  I have been opposed to the unsafe practice of housing the homeless in hotels since my days as a City Councilor and this incident underscores my concerns. The contracts with hotel owners contain very few regulations and requirements in return for the guarantees of fees and occupancy.  The state should review these contracts and consider revoking contracts with facilities where there is a frequent need for police presence.”