Here is a letter that I wrote to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) Board of Trustees on April 20, 2023
The college and the Massachusetts Dept. of Housing and Community Development are negotiating to house homeless families in a currently unused dormitory in two towers on one side of campus. Massachusetts has a "right to shelter" law (the only one in the US). As a result, the state has placed families in hotels and unused state buildings. Without any public input or even public knowledge, MCLA has been negotiating with the state to place 50-75 families on campus in the Berkshire Towers. I believe this is the wrong policy for both the families and the college.
Dear MCLA Board of Trustees,
As a former student, a resident in the neighborhood, and as one who has worked very hard to help this college, I am asking you to reject the Healey Administration’s efforts to place homeless families in the Berkshire Towers. I don’t believe this is good for the families, the college and the community.
In the November Executive Committee minutes, it was noted that this held potential for “real revenue” for the college. This decision should not be made based on revenue for the college. It should be based on long-term interests in the college and the impact on the homeless families.
With regard to the homeless population, in the DHCD “frequently asked questions for the City of North Adams,” sent out last week, it was noted that DHCD expects to house 50-75 families at the College. And while the November executive session minutes stated that short term stays of 5-10 days were expected, the DHCD memo states that there is no minimum or maximum length of stay. However, we know that the hotels contracted by the state are full because many families have not moved out. So, we can surmise that the length of stay will be longer rather than shorter. Closer to home, we can look at the Louison House in North Adams. They have a 3-family capacity and an average length of stay of 5-6 months. Can you imagine trying to place 50-75 families?
The DHCD memo also contains several factual errors. First, we do have a family shelter in North Adams as well as shelter capacity run by ServiceNet in Pittsfield. Second is the inference that the families needing shelter will be from Berkshire County. We know that is not the case. In fact, the need for family shelter is directly related to the influx of immigration in Massachusetts. We are a welcoming state and that has lead to an increase in families coming to the Commonwealth. However, it also means that families will need support and will rely on city and area services, and that places an undue burden on our service networks. Since these are families with children, there will be an increased burden on the local school system. While the state promises assistance, we all know that the promise and the continued aid to fulfill that promise are very different.
Regarding the families themselves, placing them at the college is not an optimal location. There is no playground for the children and the dorm rooms don’t have kitchens. Food will have to be brought in and the DHCD memo states that there will be supervisors and security provided. This sounds more like incarceration than housing for the families placed there.
I am not dismissive of the families in need, but the fact is that the state doesn’t have a plan to transition families in their care. Much the same as the college shouldn’t look at this as a revenue enhancement, the state cannot look at this as a way to simply satisfy the requirements of the right to shelter law. We need to address the real needs of the families we house. That includes long term scattered site housing and the prospect for employment. Again, placing them in North Adams without the requisite housing opportunities or job prospects fails the families we purport to help.
Regarding the college itself, I am very concerned about its future. As I said, I am a former student. I grew up in a very poor family and if not for this institution, I would not have been able to afford a college degree. I also live in the neighborhood and want the college to thrive. I understand how important the college is for the economy of the area. And as the former State Representative, I have responded when the college needed assistance. When the Library was sliding into the parking lot, I made sure we had the funds to repair it. When we needed extra funding to complete the Murdock Hall rehabilitation, I secured funding and when we needed to build a science building, I worked with President Grant as well as Gov. Patrick and was able to include the $55 million in a higher education bond.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when the state was at the height of a fiscal crisis, there were several plans floated by Legislative leaders and political activists that would have closed two college campuses. One of those was North Adams. I was able to fend these efforts off but given the decrease in enrollment to approximately seven hundred students this fall, I am not sure that effort will be successful should the situation arise again. I believe that MCLA was given one of the smallest increases in the 2024 budget this year and that may be an indicator of your strength should we battle this again.
We need to ensure that enrollment increases and that we are once again strong enough to withstand any challenges. I don’t see that happening presently. I have talked to students in my neighborhood who are frustrated because they can’t get the classes they need. We need to fix that. I was frustrated that the college didn’t purchase the Boardman Block when the opportunity arose. Instead, the Boardman Block, which I always considered an unofficial part of the campus, was purchased by a nonprofit and is now being used as substance abuse housing. What message does it send to parents who are bringing their children here when the college has substance abuse housing on one side and homeless families on the other? At a time when we need to grow and the area needs a strong college, we will be hemmed in with no room to grow. We need to consider the long-term impact on the college if we lease the Towers to the state.
I understand that the term for this lease is 18 months. The College may consider this temporary, but the DHCD memo states that the initial lease term is 18 months. That indicates to me that they consider this as something longer term. And once families are in the Towers, what happens if the college wants to terminate the lease? What do we do with the families? Do we uproot them to another housing hotel or does the state insist they will keep them here until they can find suitable housing elsewhere regardless of how long that takes?
Finally, I understand that Salem has been used as the example that this can work. I would remind you that Salem was in the process of turning that property over to DCAM . It is on the South Campus and not adjacent to their main campus. It is different from our situation.
I apologize for the length of this email. However, this is an important decision. Given that the neighborhood (and most of the city) has only heard of this issue recently, we have not had a chance to weigh in. This weekend, about two dozen neighbors got together to ask what they could do about this issue. They are frustrated and feel put upon.
Please know that I want to continue to assist the college in becoming great again. Your 450 employees and 700 students are a huge factor in our local economy. And they provided students like me with a place to learn, grow and be successful. Please reject this plan and continue to work on plans to increase enrollment and help the local economy.
Dan Bosley Class of ‘76