By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on 1/22/24, the Fairhaven Select Board recognized the many people who worked to welcome the unsheltered families that were placed at the Seaport Inn by the state last October. The families have recently been moved to other places. When they first arrived, some protesters gathered outside the Seaport objecting to the program that allows homeless families and immigrants to be placed in hotels at the state’s expense.
The town coordinated a response to help the families settle in and find their way around town. Kelly Ochoa formed the “SouthCoast Welcome Corps,” a group of volunteers who fund support and services for the families. Church groups, social service groups, private businesses, individuals, and town departments worked together to welcome the families.
Fairhaven Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison said it was “somewhat of a collective” and that Fairhaven Council on Aging Director Martha Reed coordinated the effort.
Ms. Ellison said Fairhaven took a new approach to handling the situation with the families. She said she wanted everyone to know how much the town appreciated and valued their commitment and the level of support they showed in welcoming everyone.
“Fairhaven ended up being a model for a lot of other municipalities because we embraced it and took it on as a positive attribute for our community,” said Ms. Ellison.
Ms. Reed told the volunteers there that they did all the work, making her job of coordinating it easy.
“As citizens and as people of good community spirit, our job is to lift people up and all of the groups that were involved really lifted these families in a way that was really unprecedented,” said Ms. Reed. “So I appreciate and thank every one of you.”
She singled out PACE (People Acting in Community Endeavors), especially for helping families with MassHealth and WIC applications; Kelly Ochoa for forming SC Welcome, which helped with day to day needs and emergency needs; and the Dawickis of the Northeast Maritime Institute for helping with a variety of things, including use of the van.
“This community really came together and it really made my role very easy to just kind of coordinate the things in place,” said Ms. Reed. “I could not have done it without each and every one of you, so thank you.”
SB Chairperson Leon Correy read the proclamation which lists many groups to recognize and expresses the “profound gratitude” of the board.
“The exemplary selflessness exhibited by these individuals in aiding over one hundred unsheltered persons, many of whom came to Fairhaven without proper supplies, serves as an inspiring testament to the true spirit of community and compassion, through volunteer funded resources,” reads the proclamation.
After a brief recess to take photos, SB member Bob Espindola asked if the town would be able to receive any reimbursement from the state for any staff time that may have been used.
Ms. Ellison said it was mostly volunteer, but she believed the school department was getting some money for the students. She said that the shelter communities are approaching the state to get the hotel taxes applied.
The board also heard from Paul DiGiuseppe, the Director of Planning and Economic Development, who gave an update on the town’s efforts to create a 40R district, which would allow for denser housing and mixed retail in certain areas of town.
Mr. DiGiuseppe said they had narrowed the area down to Route 6 and Alden Road.
The zoning in the district would include some building standards, including building heights and setbacks, and new roads.
A working group of town officials and residents has been working on the proposal for a couple of years.
Attorney Adam J. Costa, of Mead, Talerman & Costa, told the board that the frst phase is to come to a consensus on how the district might be developed. He said the working group has come to that and had been “fairly well attended.”
“Feedback has been generally positive,” said Mr. Costa.
The next phases are the legal draftings and the design.
He said they have a first draft of the zoning. Then it goes to the SB and will require a public hearing. Then the application will be submitted to the state.
The state will review it. If it is in compliance, it will go to Town Meeting for approval. Then back to the state to be in effect.
Mr. Costa and Mr. DiGiuseppe said they hoped to get the measure on the warrant for the May Town Meeting, a tight schedule.
The board will look at the draft at its next meeting and vote on submitting the application.
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