Our story begins during the cold winter months of 1994. A homeless man, who could not get a bed at the Grove Street Inn because it was full, froze to death on the railway tracks. Subsequently, then-Mayor Mary Ford appealed to local churches to provide emergency overnight shelter. Seven churches responded and rotated housing and feeding the homeless during the winter months. The City employed a professional staff member from ServiceNet to work closely with the guests. This collaboration between the City, ServiceNet, and a group of concerned volunteers was the start of a long-lasting and productive relationship.
Three years later, the volunteers located a permanent site. The shelter has moved a couple of times since then and is now in the basement of 43 Center Street, Northampton, where it offers warm beds and hot meals from November through April. In addition there is a 6-bed annex in Easthampton, where yet another group of volunteers provide comfort and security. In 2000, the volunteers formed a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, Friends of Hampshire County Homeless Individuals, Inc. with the mission of providing financial and volunteer support for the Interfaith Winter Shelter.
The shelter continues to be a pioneer in the community and is an exceptional example of what a group of passionate and selfless people can do for a worthwhile cause. Its unique approach to homelessness has defined it as a model shelter that brings in individuals from multiple counties to assist in its mission.
More recently, the Friends has been inspired by the Housing First movement to create permanent housing for homeless individuals. Housing First shows that homeless people are more able to rebuild their lives when provided with permanent housing first and then receiving support services, rather than the other way around.
In 2008, the Friends purchased a duplex in Florence to be a residence for six chronically homeless individuals; this house is called Yvonne’s House, and now is owned and managed by ServiceNet. In 2011, the Friends purchased another duplex in downtown Northampton; called the Gandara-Friends House, this house is a permanent residence for six homeless people who are also committed to recovery from substance abuse and is now owned and managed by the Gandara Center. Most recently, the Friends purchased another house for unaccompanied homeless youth; this house is now owned and managed by Dial/Self. Youth have begun to move in, and construction of another building on the property is underway.