Barnstable County Discusses Expanding Services for Homeless Population

HYANNIS – A housing official gave an update on a potential plan to use federal funds to relocate a local homeless shelter in order to expand services and offer a medical respite program. 

Housing Assistance Corporation CEO Alisa Magnotta spoke at a public hearing on 11.4 million of federal COVID relief funds received by the county for the housing sector at a recent Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates meeting.

Magnotta advocated for how the American Rescue Plan Act Advisory Committee allocated the funds, which includes earmarking $3 million for sheltering and medical respite.   

Magnotta said that the homeless population was the most seriously impacted group of people in the region by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She said that shelters had to spread out beds due to COVID restrictions, meaning the facilities were depopulated as a result of the precautions. 

“Those standards are still in place. So now we have a very serious situation where we don’t have a building that’s big enough to handle the population we already had pre-COVID and that we have seen some modest growth with post-COVID,” Magnotta said.

Magnotta said a partnership between HAC, Duffy Health Center, and Catholic Social Services had to adapt to provide services like sheltering and food distribution at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Magnotta said these efforts made the groups consider a “one-stop location of services for this homeless population.”

The groups are planning to respond to Barnstable County’s request for proposals for the housing funds to suggest relocating the Hyannis homeless shelter to a new location that will offer more beds and a medical respite program. 

Magnotta said right now those who are experiencing homelessness have to travel to different places for food, sheltering, and medical appointments. 

“We’re forcing them to move around a lot. And it’s really a burden and it delays their progress and is not the best practice in care for really anybody,” Magnotta said. 

The $3 million in ARPA funds would go towards the purchase of a building for the new shelter and necessary renovations. 

Duffy Health Center CEO Heidi Nelson clarified for whom medical respite programs are intended. 

“Medical respite is a place where people who are too sick to be in the shelter, but not sick enough to be in the hospital can go to recuperate,” Nelson said.

She added there are over 100 of these programs across the country. 

Magnotta also spoke about a recent report that said 50% of the Cape’s workforce commutes from another county and that the region is losing roughly 1,000 workforce families annually largely due to housing costs. 

The housing leader said this trend isn’t sustainable. She commented that when she started at HAC the group did a study that discovered that 25% of the Cape’s workforce was driving to the Cape. 

“So in six years we have pushed more and more of our workforce, of our year-round residents off-Cape,” Magnotta said. 

She also reaffirmed the importance of funding housing projects that are already in the cue to be constructed.

“Our projects that we (HAC) started right before COVID, cost increases have gone up over 50%. Construction costs, that’s not land costs included,” she said.

Due to the rising expenses, Magnotta said the projects don’t pencil out without gap funding, meaning the projects stop altogether or HAC has to give back other funding. 

By Brian Engles, NewsCenter

About Brian Engles

Brian Engles is a longtime local of the Cape. He studied Film & TV at Boston University and in addition to his role at Cape Cod Broadcasting Media, he also works as a music instructor and records original songs.
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