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January 08. 2014 8:32PM

Selectman: Salem needs warming shelter for homeless

SALEM — During the recent snowstorm and freezing temperatures, no one has had it harder than the homeless.

One selectman saw the effects of the cold and snow firsthand during last week’s blizzard, and wants to make sure the homeless and others in need of a place to stay warm have an option in Salem.

“Out in the middle of the blizzard, I’m plowing and I pull into a Dunkin’ Donuts,” said Selectman Pat Hargreaves. “I walk in and grab a coffee and homeless person asked me where there was a heating shelter where he could go to warm up.”

Hargreaves called the fire department to ask if there was a warming shelter open in the town but was told that the nearest open shelters were in Lawrence, Haverhill and Nashua.

“It’s kind of hard for a homeless person to go to Lawrence, Haverhill or Nashua if they don’t have a car,” said Hargreaves. “It was below zero that night and this particular individual had no place to go, so I offered to put him up at a Holiday Inn at my expense.”

Hargreaves noted that the town has emergency generators at the police and fire stations as well as the town offices and the senior center.

“It’s just confusing to me that we spend all this money on the generators and that we can’t have four or five cots (in one of the buildings) to warm people up,” he said. “We need to make a policy or a decision on what we are going to do.”

Town Manager Keith Hickey said the town does open warming shelters when there is an emergency and the Red Cross is in town to help.

“The challenge we have is finding an appropriate location, and I guess I have a bit of a concern about housing people in the fire station or police department if potentially there is no one there,” Hickey said. “We could look at opening up someplace, but that is going to entail extra staffing and costs incurred.”

Hickey also noted that if the homeless person Hargreaves helped had gone to the Town Hall during business hours, the town would likely have been able to assist him.

“I certainly don’t want to see anyone out there suffer from the cold temperatures,” said Hickey.

Selectman James Keller agreed that the town needs some protocol for opening a shelter if the temperatures fall below a certain level or if there is a large storm forecast.

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