Published: Sunday, November 27, 2011, 5:00 AM
By Stephanie Barry, The Republican The Republican
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The citrus-colored façade with the enclosed swimming pool is misleading.
The five-story Quality Inn on Riverdale Street, flanked by billboards and endless traffic, has ceased to be a stopover for tourists and business travelers passing through Western Massachusetts.
The lobby is swarmed at certain hours with mothers and their children, one of several de facto homeless shelters in desperate times for families – and the state.
The Quality Inn stands as a static, sad existence for dozens of mothers who say they’ve been promised more permanent housing by public officials, but now fear they may be stranded as funding for a component of the state’s HomeBASE program ran out.
“I know it’s better than being on the streets. I know that,” says 23-year-old Samantha Claudio. “But, it’s still unsafe for children. There are gang fights. People are selling drugs. I feel uncomfortable here and I don’t want to raise my children in these hallways. So I spend my days when I’m not going to school filling out applications (for employment and assistance). I didn’t think it would be this long.”
After the death of a baby, Ethan Luce, at the West Springfield Clarion Hotel and the severe abuse of two other children staying at a Westfield hotel in 2010, the numbers of homeless families living in motels dropped to around 830 after a onetime peak of 1,079. But, despite calls for legislative change, that number has grown again, with Chicopee and Holyoke topping the list of area communities facing high volumes of homeless families living at hotels.
Legislators are still wrangling with the administration and advocates to find out where to tap money for homeless housing and how best it can be spent, since the need is even more overwhelming than anyone knew.