Cathedral in the Night Pastor Stephanie Smith (far left), Manna Community Kitchen’s Lee Anderson (second from left), Hilltown Community Health Center’s Jessica Bossie (second from right), and Deputy Commissioner of the DHHS Michele Farry (far right), were four of seven panelists talking about the Community Resilience Hub on June 5.
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

NORTHAMPTON — For Michele Farry, the deputy commissioner of Northampton’s Department of Health and Human Services, the city’s groundbreaking Community Resilience Hub will be, among many other things, about envisioning a future of wellness for oneself.

“I think the Hub is a place where you have a power dynamic that shifts,” Farry said. “It’s not about caring for people. It’s about caring about people with people.”

According to the city, the hub will be a multi-faceted centralized location inside the former First Baptist Church at 298 Main St., that offers myriad amenities and services for community members, while simultaneously being a fixture in Northampton for combating houselessness, climate change and poverty impacts.

“The hub will create useful space for the delivery of support services, opportunities for connection and community engagement, and will establish a reliable physical resource communities can turn to in a generalized crisis,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, during the first public meeting on March 25, where the public learned about the building’s history and the city’s general hopes for the site.

Farry was one of seven panelists who spoke at Edwards Church on June 5 during Northampton’s third of three public gatherings the city conducted to involve the community in the hub’s planning process.

The panelists were representatives from different regional service providers that address homelessness, medical needs, food insecurity and more. The goal of the meeting was to illustrate the interconnectedness of these organizations and how each will integrate their services inside the hub once it opens.

“One thing that I’m just super excited about with the hub is that you can’t ask to hold space within community without being a part of the community, and the hub is definitely a part of the community,” said Shaundell Diaz, the coordinated entry coordinator for the Three County Continuum of Care. “It’s going to bring together a lot of the resources that folks need into one centralized location.”

According to Diaz, the Three County Continuum of Care collects data on homelessness in Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties for the state and U.S. governments, as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development so they know exactly what the impact of homelessness is.

During the June 5 meeting, Diaz said that there are 312 people experiencing homelessness in Hampshire County in 2024, a stark increase from the 240 who experienced houselessness in the county in 2023. The data comes from an annual “point-in-time” count that the Three County Continuum of Care completes on the coldest night of January.

“We have more folks that are outside experiencing homelessness and more folks that are going to service providers,” Diaz said. “[The hub] will ultimately just be a better way to coordinate services for folks and provide them somewhere that they can go to get everything that they need.”

Other panelists agreed with Farry and Diaz’ sentiments about the hub’s ability to connect important services to the community while also being a place where service providers in the area can be more accessible to each other.

“This is a necessary public health safety measure that the city is doing here,” said Keleigh BenEzra, the director of shelter and housing at Clinical & Support Options, which oversees shelter and housing options in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. “[The hub] is for our unhoused and for vulnerable people, but it’s also really necessary for this community and for this city to have a resource that is responsive to environmental and emergency preparedness.”

CSO’s focus, according to BenEzra, is mainly on integrating different services like case management, medical services and behavioral health for people who stay at their 35-40 bed shelter. She said that having these services in a centralized location like the hub will be beneficial for those who are trying to find stable housing.

One of the people BenEzra typically teams with on providing these services is Jessica Bossie of Hilltown Community Health Center, which is an organization that provides medical services for houseless and housed individuals and helps with enrollment in health insurance for those who need it.

Bossie mentioned how she already partners with Manna Community Kitchen, Farry and other providers like Eliot Community Human Services on helping those with housing, medical and food needs.

According to Bossie, the hub will add more stability to the relationships these service providers have already formed over the years and make it easier for communication.

“Being able to interface with all of these folks in a way that’s not just on Zoom every two weeks or with our cell phone would be phenomenal,” Bossie said. “A lot of times, especially with health crises come up that aren’t every two weeks, so the hub is going to be important.”

Almost all of the panelists at the meeting mentioned how important is to empower the people at the hub that they interact with.

Lee Anderson of Manna Community Kitchen said he wants the hub to mirror the mantra that the kitchen embodies on a daily basis.

“What we try to do at Manna is let people’s voices advocate for themselves and show them what is truly a zero barrier, zero judgment interaction,” Anderson said. “It is actually okay to ask for what you need.”

Farry mentioned how the hub will be an important alternative to the traditional methods of how people with medical needs are typically dealt with. For example, it will be a place that houses the Division of Community Care, which is an alternative to policing that provides emotional support, advocacy and other resources to people who experience houselessness, emotional distress, difficulty with meeting basic needs, substance use and other related situations.

“I hear over and over again from my mentally ill population that generally their experience with health care is, like, ‘give all the meds all the time until it all goes away,” Farry said. “We don’t take that approach. We take the ‘just enough approach’ to just enough medication or treatment or whatever it is we’re doing to prevent arrests, ER visits, harm [and] negative consequences.”

How the hub will accommodate these services

Dorrie Brooks, the principal at Jones Whitsett Architects — a partner on the project — provided additional updates on the hub at the end of the meeting and illustrated how the hub will accommodate the service providers who were part of the panel.

She noted how the hub’s ground floor will have a commercial kitchen and a dining area to support Manna along with other resources like medical clinics and outreach spaces for Bossie and the Division of Community Care to do their work while people enjoy a meal. The ground floor will also include showers, bathrooms and laundry facilities.

According to Brooks, the second floor will continue to be a flexible large community hall space for gatherings, performances, lectures and other community events.

The second floor will also house consulting spaces for different organizations to provide resources and conduct small group meetings.

The third floor, meanwhile, will feature Division of Community Care offices.

“The design has to reflect the shared values that that group has in store and that they hold,” Brooks said of the layout and proposed design of the building. “Part of what is meaningful about this project to us as architects is that when you go in that building … you see this incredibly beautiful, dignified space. That is precisely the correct environment in which to provide services that are meant to provide dignity to people.”

Brooks said the project will most likely have to be completed in six phases with funding coming from a bevy of places. She noted that the design team is taking a step back as of now to allow for some field investigation with different populations to be done while the city looks for a project manager.

Readers can learn more about the project by visiting Reminder Publishing’s past coverage on the prior public meetings: https://thereminder.com/local-news/hub-to-address-public-health-emergency-preparedness/.

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