Task force seeks solutions to help homeless

Dec 20, 2022

Coming from Lowell, Dartmouth Building Commissioner Joe Braga knows first-hand the kind of devastation people can experience when they’re desperate for shelter.

“I can tell you horror stories,” he said at a Select Board meeting earlier this month. 

On one occasion, he recalls a building that went up in flames due to some people running wires across the street to plug into a nearby business.

“All of a sudden, you have three families that are gone [from their homes],” he said.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes said town offices have received more calls than ever before with regard to homelessness and where to guide those residents.

With no specific department to deal with this, the town decided to form an internal task force last month to address the issues involved in homelessness and to help get struggling residents back on their feet

The group, called the Dartmouth Community Service Outreach Team, consists of a representative from the police department, fire, EMS, Council on Aging, Board of Health, Housing Authority, Veterans Service, Building Commissioner, town libraries, and the assistant town administrator.

All this is done voluntarily, COA Director Amy DiPietro said.

“We as town employees are the front line of community service,” she said.

The primary goal, DiPietro said, is to “educate the community on the needs of at-risk individuals” and to promote, link, and implement needed services.

“There’s a real need in the town for access to services that historically have never been in the town,” said task force member and the COA’s director of outreach Matthew Dansereau. 

Once a month, DiPietro said, the group will meet to review cases, which could involve presentations on situations individual departments have faced and what course of action should be taken.

The group also intends to have the town count the number of homeless people it has through the federal government’s “Point in Time Count”— something he said the town has never participated in.

Dansereau estimates that there are likely “hundreds” of residents who do not have access to stable housing and rely oncouch-surfing, living in tents in the woods, sleeping in their cars, or staying at a motel for shelter.

Those motels, Dansereau added, bring their own set of challenges the task force hopes to address.

“They kind of come to Dartmouth and get sucked into this dark hole of living near the hotel, running out of money or time — all the while not really getting any services,” he said.

One idea, Danserau said, is to bring knowledge of services to those who run the motels. Another is to get unhoused people into some of the local hotels using emergency housing vouchers from the state’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. 

While there are other shelters in the county, DiPietro noted that some have long waitlists, so it’s best to do something locally as soon as possible.

“It’s a slow process, but it’s a process,” Dansereau said.

Though the task force is still finding its footing, the group has gotten to work early in their outreach efforts. 

On Dec. 19, the group held its first resource fair at the North Branch Library, connecting people with organizations that can get them on a better path.

The fair consisted of a little more than 21 organizations connecting and informing about their services to 25 guests who stopped by. Task force member and Youth Advocate Deloris Joseph said there will likely be an additional fair in the future, likely to be held in the late afternoon or evening.

Additionally, the task force is in the midst of collecting winter clothes that will be distributed by Dartmouth’s first responders to those who need it when they are out in the community.

“People don’t always want to accept the services that we’re offering, but they do need to stay warm,” DiPietro said.

Winter gear of all sizes can be dropped off at bins outside the Board of Health office at Town Hall, located at 400 Slocum Road; the North Branch Library, located at 211 Cross Road; the Southworth Library, located at 732 Dartmouth St.; and the Maria Connor Center for Active Living, located at 628 Dartmouth St.