AMHERST — A new project dedicated to mitigating the problem of regional homelessness is currently revving up in Amherst.

According to an announcement on its site, the town of Amherst is hosting a public forum in the Town Room on 4 Boltwood Ave. from 7-8:30 p.m. on June 10 to invite public input on the development of a new shelter and housing facility on the property where the current Amherst Veterans of Foreign Wars building stands.

“We feel a level of responsibility with solving the problems of regional homelessness,” said David Ziomek, Amherst’s assistant town manager, in an interview with Reminder Publishing.

According to Ziomek, the town looked at many different parcels for this shelter before buying the Amherst VFW building from Earl J. Sanders Post 754 for $775,000 using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Ziomek said the VFW was willing to sell the building, which is located at 457 Main St., because they were interested in merging with another VFW organization.

With the property in hand — which is about 1.5 acres in all — the town plans to demolish the current structure on the property and redevelop it into a housing and shelter facility.

“What is happening in the shelter world right now is that shelters are redesigning and really looking at how can they best shelter people, but then how can they get them housed as quickly as possible,” Ziomek said. “It’s called the ‘Housing First Model.’”

Ziomek emphasized how this facility would follow that blueprint.

The idea is to design and building and a space with appropriate resources to help people off the streets while simultaneously providing them the services and support they need to get rehoused.

“Nobody wants to live in a shelter; they want permanent housing and long-term security,” Ziomek added.
With that said, the facility will have some form of housing above this shelter, whether that is transitional housing, permanent supportive housing or some other form.

Ziomek said that will all be hashed out during the design process, which is now ramping up as the June 10 forum comes closer into view.

“June 10 is all about beginning that process and having the community come together to be part of the visioning for the facility,” Ziomek said.

The town hired The Narrow Gate, a Boston-based design firm that designed Father Bill’s Shelter in Quincy, which currently houses 120 beds in its shelter and about 30-40 units of housing.

Ziomek said The Narrow Gate will spearhead a presentation at the June meeting about the projects they have embarked on, and then the public will participate in breakout sessions to talk about what they think will be most important in the proposed facility.

Members of Craig’s Doors are expected to be at the meeting, which is co-sponsored by the town’s housing trust.
According to Ziomek, the 457 Main St. location is an ideal spot for the housing and shelter facility because it has public water, public sewer, the zoning is appropriate, it is near downtown and it is on a bus route.

Ziomek added that it is also close in proximity to some of the town’s major services like the John P. Musante Health Center, Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center.

“We have all of these nonprofits that we hope can partner with whoever ends up running the facility,” Ziomek said.

After the design meeting on June 10, Ziomek said The Narrow Gate will continue to meet with relevant stakeholders around town before coming back to a future public meeting with some concept designs to share.
After that, the town will demolish the current building and send out request for proposals to developers who want to build and run the facility.

“We want to find a design that we think will serve the facility’s purpose and then find a provider who will build the shelter, fund the shelter and then operate both the shelter and the housing,” Ziomek said, of the process.
According to Ziomek, it is estimated that a building of this stature will cost $12 to $16 million to build, so the town and future developer will look at local, state and federal funding to help.

This entire process should take around three to five years.

“Ultimately, the goal is to serve people in a way that provides them with a place that is well-designed, comfortable and helps them get back on their feet and take that next step toward permanent housing,” Ziomek said.

rfeyre@thereminder.com | + posts