, Gloucester, MA


January 5, 2013

Opinion: Time to end hotel program

If you want to be impressed by the generosity of a community, look no further than Danvers.

For years, the town has been the de facto home for hundreds of the state’s so-called “hotel homeless” families. The latest numbers, according to Town Manager Wayne Marquis, showed 192 families with more than 300 children living in Danvers hotels. By some estimates, the town houses around 10 percent of the state’s homeless families.

The town, from its elected and municipal officials to the teen volunteers at the Danvers Recreation Department to the retired seniors manning the People to People Food Pantry, has done all it can to help these families, especially their children.

That assistance, however, comes at great cost to the town. Marquis said the influx of needy residents from other communities has put a strain on the town’s social services, including the food pantry. The town also bears much of the cost for transporting homeless children from Danvers hotels to schools in their native communities.

“It’s taxing on our resources, for sure,” Marquis told reporter Ethan Forman earlier this week.

As Selectmen Bill Clark and Dan Bennett have noted, it’s not a good situation for the families, either.

“It’s a lousy way for young people to be treated,” Clark said.

So it was refreshing to hear the state reaffirm its commitment to ending the program in 2014. The plan is to shift from using shelters and hotels to providing financial assistance for families in need of housing.

Matthew Sheaff, spokesman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said the hotels — which offer families a single room with no cooking facilities or areas for children to play — are a poor option for young children.

That echoes what the department’s director, Aaron Gornstein, told the Times’ sister paper The Salem News’ editorial board during a visit this spring. Gornstein called the hotel program an “intolerable situation” for families.

It’s an expensive one, too. Last year, the state spent $45 million on the program.

Here’s hoping the state sticks to its plan, for the good of the state’s taxpayers, the overburdened town of Danvers and especially the families themselves.

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