|By Erin O'Connor |
WESTFIELD Jenifer (she requested her last name not be used) is a case manager and program director at the Samaritan Inn. She told of a story that she witnessed during her last seven years working at the emergency shelter.
"A man came in who had a shabby shirt and shabby pants and he would not ask for anything," she said. "The men grabbed items and took care of him." Jenifer told the story inside the office she shares at 7 Free Street, location of the shelter.
"People with nothing were taking one of whatever they had and weren't waiting to see if he liked them first. They care and these are people with nothing. Human beings instinctively care about one another and you can't tell them not to," Jenifer said to Reminder Publications.
"The clean and sober shelter has remained full despite warmer temperatures this winter," Jenifer said.
Beds can be requested at 8:15 a.m. for that night and are provided on a first-come-first- serve-basis. Guests at the Inn participate in weekly chore assignments. "People are not here drinking and drugging. People here are waiting to get into programs. Some are widows. There are different reasons that they end up here," said the former nurse.
Jenifer shares tasks at the shelter with Ernest, another case manager. The work once divided between four people is now divided between two as a result of budget cuts.
The Samaritan, a private non-profit organization, receives some funding from different grants.
"Cutting began over a period of about four years ago," Jenifer said. "Funding gets restored and then it gets cut."
The shelter is celebrating its fourth year as being a 24/7 shelter. In its first years it was closed during the day and in the summer.
"Without the Samaritan, there would be a lot more people under bridges," Jennifer said. "You need all kinds of shelters. Not everyone is ready to get clean and sober but they still should not be living out on the streets. There [are] such a variety of people here. There are veterans who went to war one-way and came back another, kids out of DSS [Department of Social Services] where there is no family. They end up out there with nothing and then they end up here."
Jenifer said that in the last two years there have been veterans of the Iraq War coming in with various problems.
"The Iraq War is already affecting the homeless," Jenifer said. "A lot of guys sent over are in the reserves and when they come back their job is gone. Some are affected because of situations that happened while they were over there."
Jenifer said the Samaritan is working with Westfield Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Northampton Veterans Hospital to help the veterans.
Members of the Samaritan family are also celebrating because in addition to their extended hours they are pleased with a growing relationship with members of the community.
"The relationship with the community has been building," she said. "There was a time where people who donate now said that a few years ago they were afraid to pull into the parking lot."
Jenifer said the Inn is also working with local hospitals and the Police Department to foster an understanding of homelessness.
"It is beneficial for the community to want a good relationship with us because that ultimately creates productive members of society. Westfield wins and cities win."
Programs that are offered at the shelter, originally opened in 1987, include Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Tuesday nights; aid in obtaining health insurance; mental health therapy programs; and assistance with finding housing and jobs.
Next month an attorney will start counseling homeless people on their legal questions. Food and clothing are not an issue for the Samaritan due to help from the local food pantry and the Salvation Army. For funding, however, there is need.
"One of the things that we need, it sounds horrible but [its] cash. We work with grants but they are specific, when the washer breaks we have to come up with the money for that," she said.
Donations can be made to the shelter by mail at: The Samaritan Inn, 7 Free Street Westfield, MA 01085.
"People sitting out front- they are not just sitting they are on waiting lists to get into programs," Jennifer said. "They are kind of stuck here so they want to sit in the sun. There is only so much you can do when you are in that waiting line."