With NOAH Shelter To Be Moved, HAC CEO Rick Presbrey Discusses Homelessness Issue

CCB MEDIA FILE PHOTO Greg Bar, manager of the NOAH homeless shelter, talks about clients at the center, while Housing Assistance Corporation chief financial officer Michael Sweeney and HAC CEO and president Rick Presbrey listen at last week's meeting of the Barnstable Town Council.

Greg Bar, manager of the NOAH homeless shelter, talks about clients at the center, while Housing Assistance Corporation chief financial officer Michael Sweeney and HAC CEO and president Rick Presbrey listen at last week’s meeting of the Barnstable Town Council.

A more visible homeless population in downtown Hyannis has been a hot button issue over the past several months and the decision has been made to move the NOAH homeless shelter, which was first opened in 1984 to deal with the issue of vagrants living in abandoned buildings in Hyannis.

Barnstable Police have reported an increase in the homeless population and a rising cost of responding to incidents involving homeless people.

Business and civic leaders have met with social services leaders to talk about the issue and have devised a plan to move the NOAH homeless shelter out of Hyannis, giving it a new name and a new mission.

Housing Assistance Corporation runs the NOAH shelter on Winter Street, along with three shelters for homeless families. The others are in North Falmouth, Cataumet and on South Street in Hyannis.

The agency’s main function has to do with providing housing services to people, whether helping them to find rental housing, assisting people in danger of foreclosure, providing classes for first time homeowners and constructing affordable housing.

Frederic Presbrey, president and CEO of the Housing Assistance Corporation, is a member of a group of civic leaders that settled on a plan to move the NOAH shelter. He brought the issue to his board of directors earlier this month and the board agreed to move the shelter from its Winter Street location in downtown Hyannis to a location yet to be determined.

Presbrey said the shelter opened originally in 1984 in the armory in Hyannis at the request of the town.

“We didn’t really want to do it. It’s not exactly our business. We’re a housing agency but nobody else would do it and we were responding to a need,” he said.

Two years later it was moved to its present location on Winter Street.

“It’s been there for 30 years. That’s a long time,” Presbrey said.

He said the shelter has long been a point of contention. “Obviously there is the issue of compassionate care for a needy population versus having a downtown that appeals to tourists and visitors,” he said.

He said he agrees the shelter needs to be moved.

“Moving the facility to a less downtown location will be helpful to downtown in a number of ways–partially perception–and will enable us to have a facility that makes it possible to do a greater variety of things to meet their needs,” he said.

But Presbrey said it will not be easy to find a new place for the facility, particularly with all the negative attention the facility has gotten in recent months.

“Nobody wants it near them. We have to use our skills to find an appropriate place where it’s not near a neighborhood and has enough space for the programs that are envisioned,” he said. “It has to be a careful process in order to succeed.”

Presbrey said within the discussion about the homeless population, there have been discussions about what Hyannis is.

“Hyannis is Cape Cod’s downtown,” he said.

He said a list of 72 social service agencies put together by Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald is a representation of Hyannis as a place that attracts a range of services, including Cape Cod Hospital and the Internal Revenue Service office, which are both among the services on the list.

Presbrey who now lives in Marstons Mills, said he lived in Hyannis for 17 years and considers it “my hometown.”

He said he is well aware that some homeless individuals can cause problems, but he urges a spirit of cooperation.

“Not to say I don’t recognize that homeless individuals who are on drugs or alcoholics or have mental illness do objectionable things. I know darn well they do. I know it better than anybody. We run a facility for them every single night of the year, 365 nights a year. But I think a reasonable attitude needs to be taken by everybody. If we want [NOAH] moved, we have to cooperate to do it. We can improve upon things and then when it is moved, we tackle the rest of the problem. That’s what’s going on here and I think it’s a very positive thing that’s happening.”

Presbrey said figures from NOAH indicate that about three-quarters of those staying at the shelter come from towns on Cape Cod.

Because the NOAH shelter only allows people from off-Cape to stay for one night, Presbrey said, “It’s not really the place to come for shelter.”

He said a bigger problem is people staying at the camps—by some counts hundreds–in the woods of Hyannis.

“The tragedy is that’s what people’s lives are actually like,” he said of the deplorable conditions in the camps.

But Presbrey said finding a new location for NOAH is an initial goal to deal with the problem.

“Moving the shelter is the first step of reducing the homeless in Hyannis and getting better services to reduce homelessness overall,” he said. “

He said he believes the second step is to try to curtail the illegal behavior in the camps.

He said in HAC’s other programs, the key to helping people improve their circumstances is in helping them with a range of issues in their lives.

“At HAC, what we do is give people a useful, meaningful life. An opportunity for a useful, meaningful life makes all the difference,” he said.

To listen to the entire interview with Rick Presbrey, President and CEO of Housing Assistance Corporation, click below.

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