Williamstown Chamber of Commerce Hosts Fundraiser for HG

Higher Ground was fortunate enough to be the recipient of all proceeds raised by the annual Williamstown Chamber of Commerce meeting, which was held at Gala, the restaurant at The Orchids hotel. Local food vendors and organization, including Wild Oats and Williams College, offered food for those who came out for the event, which raised $4,000.

As this article in iBerkshires recounts, presentations by Higher Ground board members helped remind everyone that their was still work to be done. Carol Zingarelli, a resident at the Spruces and a member of Higher Ground, explained that most Spruces residents were in the “depression” stage of grief as the holidays approached. Although all were grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support from the community, it is clear that some of the most difficult obstacles still lay ahead.

Morgan Management Files Suit Against Williamstown

Morgan Management is suing the town in order to determine exactly what its responsibilities are as the owner of The Spruces. The case has a lot of different angles to it, so below is quoted at length from an article published on Williamstown.com:

There has been much speculation on the park’s future since it was washed out by Hurricane Irene. The company filed suit in response to multiple residents going to housing court to force the company to restore power to the homes after the company said the electrical infrastructure was too damaged to immediately repair.

“If these orders go through they will define who will stay and who will go,” Town Manager Peter Fohlin told the Selectmen on Monday.

The company wants to know if residents who haven’t returned are abandoning their property. The company is also asking residents to take responsibility for removing abandoned trailers within that 30-day time period. At the same time, the company would halt work on the infrastructure and create a plan that could include moving the trailers into a smaller space. Much of the newer, western section of the park was the most heavily damaged.

Morgan Management also is asking the town to force out eight residents who may be living in condemned homes. While some of the homes Morgan Management listed in court documents have since been approved for occupancy, Fohlin said he has an updated list of residents who are allegedly living in their homes illegally.

“The only item that is directed to the town is the one asking us to remove residents from condemned homes,” Fohlin said. “We’re a little between a rock and a hard spot now that Morgan is taking us to court.”

Fohlin also expressed concern with the company’s request that would allow them to “reorder, relocate and consolidate” the park because it would “bypass” state building codes. The homes are not currently conforming to state building codes because they are in a flood plain. A trailer that is moved or constructed now must fit in with the codes that would require the homes to be above floodwaters — as high as 12 feet in the air in some parts of the park. The order would rid the residents and the company of that responsibility.

Morgan Management is also asking for the state for a reprieve from pressures while the future of the park is being planned and another order would require the residents to remove “non-ordinary” trash that washed up in the storm. However, Fohlin said the town and the Spruce’s Tenants Association have already removed that trash.

Members of the Board of Selectmen voiced concern over contacting the residents and over who will have to pay for the homes to be moved. Fohlin said the town’s attorney does not think Morgan’s request of giving residents 30 days to decide their intentions will be ordered and that the lawsuit does not specify who would pay for the relocation of the homes.

Board members were also concerned that the residents will not be represented in court. While the tenants could hire an attorney and file a motion to intervene, Fohlin reminded the board members that the Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office will be representing the residents.

Williams XC Team Raises Money for Spruces

Higher Ground has one former Eph runner on its crew, so we were particularly excited to hear about the cross country team’s efforts to support the Spruces:

The Eph teams raised the money by conducting a twelve-hour Run-a-Thon on the College’s Tony Plansky Track October 1 from 7 AM-7 PM.  Pairs of runners ran 20-minute segments before tagging a teammate to continue the relay.  Supporters pledged donations based on the total number of miles covered, and the final tally for the day was 223 miles!

Good luck at your NCAA Championships this weekend, Williams XC!

First Press Release

The following press release went out to local media today:

HIGHER GROUND NON-PROFIT FORMED TO PURSUE DISASTER RELIEF, HOUSING

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA—On October 21, Higher Ground became a non-profit group dedicated to providing immediate relief for those affected by Tropical Storm Irene, preparing for future disasters, and creating more affordable housing in the area. Higher Ground is providing services and raising money to meet long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual needs associated with the disaster, which is perhaps the greatest in Williamstown’s history.

Higher Ground currently provides fourteen trained caseworkers who are working closely with those affected by the storm. Other volunteers are facilitating communications between the town and affected residents, fundraising to cover families’ immediate needs, and networking with regional, national, and international resources that can provide guidance and financial support.

Higher Ground’s efforts will replace those of the Community Fund and serve to supplement the businesses, organizations, and individuals who have been essential in the relief process so far. The outpouring of financial and volunteer support exhibited since Higher Ground’s inception by the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Clergy in the days following the storm has been “phenomenal” says Rev. Carrie Bail, the organization’s chair. “Many disaster professionals have remarked on how quickly we have built an effective helping organization,” she adds.

Higher Ground is accepting donations by check, which can be made to Higher Ground and mailed to 906 Main Street, Williamstown, MA 01267. Those interested in volunteering should e-mail nbhigherground@gmail.com to contact Higher Ground Coordinator Robin Lenz. To stay updated on the situation and Higher Ground’s work, visit http://nbhigherground.org or sign up for the newsletter at http://tinyurl.com/nbhigherground.

UPCOMING EVENTS:

The All Saints Episcopal Church is making and delivering a home cooked turkey dinner with all of the fixings for anyone who is homebound and fifty-five or older. Call the church at 664-9656 to place an order. Those interested in helping with the program should contact Diane Bleau at the same number.

Nov. 21, 4:00pm: The Berkshire Food Project will be hosting its annual Thanksgiving Dinner at the First Congregational Church in North Adams.

Nov. 23, 11:00am: Williams College will be hosting a Thanksgiving meal in Driscoll Dining Hall.

Nov. 29, 5-7pm: The Williamstown Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting will be a fundraiser for Higher Ground. The dinner will be at the Orchards (227 Adams Road, Williamstown) and open to the entire public at a cost of $30 per person. Call 413-458-9077 or e-mail info@williamstownchamber.com to sign up.

Media Contact: Lauren Shuffleton, 603-490-5219, Lauren.Shuffleton@gmail.com

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Owners of the Spruces Sue State and Williamstown Officials

This iBerkshires article from this morning explains that Morgan Management, which owns the Spruces has “filed a lawsuit to force local and state officials to discuss utility problems in the park.”

From the article:

“People shouldn’t get too alarmed when I say they filed a suit. They’re asking the court to rationalize what’s happening on the west end of the park and Morgan’s only alternative is to get in front of a judge to get rationalize it,” Town Manager Peter Fohlin told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night. “Their major concern is that park tenants were going to the Housing Court one here, one there, in sort of a helter skelter fashion and Morgan Management is asking the court to bring all of those questions together.”

Board Meeting Notes: Nov. 14, 2011

Tonight’s meeting featured, among other topics, the following points:

1. The sub-committee on affordable housing has decided to host a community meeting at some point in December to foster discussion, planning, and the sharing of resources among the entire community and also to continue to promote the issues at hand.

2. Plans are in the works for a “Blue Christmas” or other holiday event that can allow people to come together for the holidays in a way that accepts and supports those grieving.

3. The Berkshire Housing Development Corp announced that Proprietor’s Field will expand with eighty more units. Read the story at The Transcript here.

4. The Mass Mental Health budget was decreased by over 8% this year, which suggests that we need to continue making mental healthy availability a priority in our work. Right now people seem to be more interested in using caseworkers for support for now, but we want to keep it a focus in the future.

 

Robin’s News Update I

The following is a news update from Higher Ground Coordinator and case-working-extraordinaire Robin Lenz:

Coordinator Robin Lenz, Case Manager Susan Puddester and town resident Cheryl Shanks, representing Williamstown’s Committee on Affordable Housing, spoke to members of the First Congregational Church last week about the ongoing recovery difficulties for former Spruces residents as well as the issue of affordable housing in general in our area.  They are available to speak to any local faith community that would like to hear them.
Higher Ground’s Board of Directors meets weekly: it has established officers, developed seven working subcommittees, and received an EIN number.  Higher Ground has received funding from one national denomination, and has applied for two more grants.
Support groups for survivors from the storm, through the Riverside Trauma Center, will begin next week.
FEMA representatives Dick Balnicky and Susan Mills are located in Town Hall and will continue to aid our community. The emergency office on Main Street has closed.
Representatives of Higher Ground attend the Committee on Affordable Housing meetings, which are generally every Tuesday, 7 p.m., in Town Hall and are developing a working partnership to aid their mission.
We are proud of the tremendous amount of cooperation and collaboration we are seeing among everyone involved, and look forward to continuing the important work of helping each other.