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Sullivan appointed to commission on homeless

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

HOLYOKE Mayor Michael Sullivan attended his first meeting last week as a member of the state's Commission to End Homelessness and he told the Chicopee Herald it was important for him to be part of a process designed to a state-level approach to homelessness.

Governor Deval Patrick recently appointed Sullivan to the commission. Sullivan will be traveling to Boston twice a month to attend commission meetings. The goal of the commission is to prepare a report by Dec. 30 that would look at the best practices in addressing the problem.

As an example, Sullivan said the commission would examine an approach from Connecticut that has allowed that state to streamline the way it provides services to women and children that provides a faster response and savings to the state.

Holyoke is part of a regional collaboration among communities in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties developing a regional 10-year plan to address homelessness. Springfield has developed and started to implement its own 10-year plan and Sullivan said is also involved in the regional effort.

Sullivan has been a vocal critic of current state policies that he described as using Holyoke to "warehouse the poor." Holyoke has 151 different shelter units used by the Department of Transitional Assistance to house homeless families. He said Holyoke residents have seldom used those units.

Instead state authorities have brought in homeless families from other communities, which Sullivan said has concentrated poverty in the city. Twenty-four percent of the city's citizens live below the poverty line and 87 percent of the children received either a reduced cost or free school lunch.

In one area of the city, census figures revealed the median family income is $11,000 and the median age is 19.

"These people are very poor and very young," Sullivan said.

In all, 17,500 people live below the poverty line in the city and Sullivan compared that number to 15,884, the number of chronically homeless people who live in Massachusetts.

The Holyoke population is "living virtually on the brink of being homeless," he said.

"Concentrating poverty does little to stimulate the city's economy," he added.

Sullivan said at his first meeting some of discussion centered on the amount of the money needed to solve homelessness. Sullivan reported that State Representative Byron Rushing (D-Cambridge) said, "Huge amounts of capital would be needed."

Sullivan said he agreed with State Senator Michael Knapik's (R-Westfield) assessment that it's not the amount of money the state and municipalities spend, but how they spend it.

Sullivan said homelessness is "an important thing affecting Holyoke for generations. I need to be at the table so these issues can be addressed."