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March 22, 2017

Letter: Craig’s Place to fight against fatal budget cuts

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

To the Editor,

Craig’s Place Emergency Shelter sits right on the edge of the University of Massachusetts campus, in the basement of the First Baptist Church. Standing on the front steps of the church, you can see the Southwest Residential Area towers against the horizon, and the Fine Arts Center and W.E.B. Du Bois Library poking through the trees to your right. From 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., the church is filled with Bible study classes, youth groups and community meetings.

At 9 p.m., the basement of the church transforms into a homeless shelter. The kitchen staff cooks dinner, while the opening staff prepares paperwork and sets up cots, dining tables and workstations. By 9:30 p.m., we open the doors. The shelter takes in 28 people a night: 22 men and six women.

Unlike the majority of shelters in the state, Craig’s Place has a behavior-based entry policy: If you respect the shelter and the people in it, you can stay here. We will not turn you away for struggling with addiction. We will not turn you away for having a criminal record. We will not turn you away for struggling with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or any other mental illness. Craig’s Place operates under the fundamental philosophy that everyone deserves a safe place to sleep at night. Everyone.

But the shelter is in trouble. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is preparing to do midyear budget cuts. These budget cuts, known as 9C cuts, give the governor unilateral authority to cut parts of the state budget. They cannot be overridden. On Dec. 15th, the governor will make his decision. Should he choose to cut funding for Craig’s Place, we will have to close our doors mid-January. The individuals we take in every night will be left stranded on the streets. For our most vulnerable guests, a shelter closure would be deadly. Nighttime temperatures in a Massachusetts winter frequently drop below zero. Some of the people we care about would not survive that. It is crucial to understand that without this shelter, people in Amherst will die.

For most of us, it can be easy to forget about the world outside of campus. When we want to eat, we can swipe into an unlimited buffet of food. When temperatures become dangerously cold, we never have to worry about how to survive the night. Not everyone in this town has those privileges. As students at a wealthy university, we have a moral obligation to work together to keep this shelter open. We cannot allow people to freeze to death on the streets of our town. There are a couple of ways we can do that.

Firstly, call the office of Governor Charlie Baker. Ask that he ensure funding for Craig’s Doors. His contact information can be found here.

Secondly, fundraise. Ask your family and friends to donate. If you are in Greek Life, host a fundraiser for the shelter. If you are a musician or know musicians, host a show to benefit the shelter. If financially possible, donate yourself. Should funding cuts go through, every donation can help us stay open just a few nights longer. You can find our GoFundMe, “Save Craig’s Place,” or donate time, material goods or cash at the shelter. With the help of all of you, we can still make it through the worst months of the winter.

Finally, we want to address the UMass and Amherst community members who rely on the shelter and other social services to survive. We are in constant awe of your strength and resilience in the face of unimaginable difficulty. No matter what happens in the coming months, we want you to know that you matter. We want you to know that each of you is important to us at Craig’s Place and to many, many others. We wish we could promise you that it will all be okay, and we wish we could promise you that these services will be here in a few months’ time. We can’t make you those promises right now, but there is one promise we can make. We promise to fight like hell for this shelter. We promise not to give up on you now, or ever.

Craig’s Doors

A Home Association, Inc.

Amherst, MA

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