Housing for homeless, land conservation converge in West Wareham

Nonprofits, state and local officials celebrate Larry and Joan Walton House
Jun 19, 2017

Five Wareham homeless individuals will soon go from living on the street to having their own address when they are given the keys to a new residence this summer.

“It’s been gratifying to see people go from sleeping on a mattress in a church basement to a secure home they can call their own,” said Pastor David Shaw of the Emmanuel Church of Nazarene.

On Monday, town and state officials, Congressman Bill Keating, along with members of the Wareham Land Trust and Buzzards Bay Coalition, celebrated the opening of the Larry and Joan Walton House on Pumpkin Town Road in West Wareham.

Shaw, who serves as Turning Point’s chairman of the board, said he was elated to be part of the project. The Wareham-based Turning Point, which is a program operated by the Wareham Area Committee for the Homeless that provides services to the homeless and near-homeless, will place individuals in the apartments. Brockton-based Father Bill’s & MainSpring, another homeless advocacy group, will own the apartment and manage it.

Named after the founders of Turning Point, the six-unit apartment complex is a project three years in the making. It brought together three seemingly disparate causes – addressing homelessness, conserving land and expanding recreation opportunities.

The plan satisfied aspects of the organizations’ missions and came together in 2012 when the Wareham Land Trust began looking into the property for conservation reasons.

According to Mark Rasmussen, president of the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the project is “entirely unique” in the state.

Using $650,000 in Community Preservation Funds approved at last year’s Town Meeting, the nonprofits purchased the apartment and the 10 acres of land it sits on. The land abuts the Westgate Conservation property and includes 1,300 feet of frontage along the Weweantic River.

Of the land, 8.7 acres is set aside for conservation and passive recreation such as walking. The remaining land is where the apartment is located.

At Monday’s ceremony, officials focused on the homelessness aspect of the project, which will give in total six Wareham homeless people a place to live. One person is already living in the complex while the remaining five are scheduled to move in later this summer.

One of the future tenants, who declined to be identified, said he’s been homeless for the past 15 years.

“This couldn’t have come any sooner,” he said. “It’s a godsend.”

He said he became homeless after a series of events – divorce, loss of his driver’s license and falling into addiction. With the help of Turning Point, he said he’s been able to get his life back on track.

Another tenant has been homeless in Wareham for the past 30 years. In 1987, he lost his home in a fire.

Michael O’Neill, Jr., a resource center specialist for Father Bill's & MainSpring, said their stories are typical and urged people to not turn away from the problem of homelessness.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about people who are homeless,” said O’Neill. “I wish people would stop and take a chance to get to know them. Projects like this are important because once they get housing it helps them rebuild their lives.”

Keating, in his remarks, noted that in Massachusetts there are an estimated 19,000 homeless with 1,600 in his district alone.

Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum congratulated Wareham voters for approving the funds that helped make the project possible, but noted the town still has much to do to address the issue.

“The problem is so huge here. We have to take care of people who don’t have the resources or the ability to get back on their feet,” said Teitelbaum.

State Rep. Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham), who was described as a champion of homeless issues at the local level, echoed the sentiment.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I will be there every step of the way that I can to address the issue of homelessness.”