The Spruces and Higher Ground in the Boston Globe

It has been a big day for Higher Ground in the news. Today an article appeared in the Boston Globe detailing the difficulties and frustrations the Sprucians have been feeling since Tropical Storm Irene hit Williamstown. From the article:

Flooding from the adjacent Hoosic River scattered the residents, mostly people over 55 and on low incomes, throughout the region – to apartments they cannot afford, to the homes of relatives, or to motels where they pay the bill with what is left of federal disaster checks.

“It’s been hell, that’s what it’s been,’’ said Arthur Smith, 82, who lost the trailer he shared with his wife, plus another he had bought for his sister.

It has also been a continuing primer in emergency response for a bucolic college town of 6,000 full-time residents. Indeed, the park owner’s attorney said he believes that no other mobile home site in Massachusetts has ever been hit as hard.

In all, 158 of 225 trailers have been condemned. To compound the pain, scarce resources to help the displaced have all but dried up.


Higher Ground and Williamstown Affordable Housing Committee to Host Public Meeting

The Housing Committee for Higher Ground and the Affordable Housing Committee of Williamstown have been planning a public meeting for Tuesday, April 3, 7-8 p.m., at the Williams Inn. Below is the text from the press release.

Affordable Housing to be topic of public meeting

Williamstown, MA – A public informational meeting to examine how articles up for vote at Williamstown’s Town Meeting could increase affordable housing will take place at The Williams Inn, 7-8 p.m., on Tuesday, April 3. The meeting is co-sponsored by the Williamstown Affordable Housing Committee, the Williamstown Housing Authority, the Williamstown League of Women Voters, and Higher Ground, a non-profit organization serving flood survivors and working toward community housing solutions in the area. All Williamstown residents are encouraged to attend.

To be voted on at the May 15 Town Meeting are proposals to award $107,500 in Community Preservation Act funds for technical services to evaluate sites in Williamstown for affordable housing; to establish an Affordable Housing Trust; to award an additional $200,000 in CPA funds as initial funding of the trust; and to award $80,000 in CPA funds for predevelopment work by Berkshire Housing Development Corp., which seeks to add 20-25 units of senior housing at Proprietors Fields.

Additionally, the Williamstown Planning Board is asking for bylaw revisions to allow properties zoned for single-family use to be adapted to accommodate a second household.

Before the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, half of the approximate 450 low-cost homes in Williamstown were in The Spruces Mobile Home Park. Up to 160 of 225 homes at The Spruces are permanently uninhabitable. The remaining 65 continue to be at risk of flooding.

Community housing is housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income individuals and families – working, disabled or retired – through a variety of housing options. Homes may be single-family or multi-family, with construction costs subsidized by public funds so that rents and purchase prices can be affordable. Area affordable housing communities are fully occupied, with waiting lists equal to the number of existing units and waiting times as long as 3-5 years.

The Williams Inn is located on the Town Green at the northern intersection of Rts. 2 and 7 in Williamstown. Refreshments will be provided by Junior Girl Scout Troop 40036. For more information, contact

Higher Ground on Willinet

The team at Higher Ground has been hard at work producing a tv show for Willinet to share information with the community about what we’ve been up to. At the time of writing, episode one, which focuses on the experiences Strafford, Vermont had in dealing with the disaster in their town, has already been shown. However, it can still be seen online here.

The second episode can be viewed here. We’ll post additional videos as they come out.

Springfield Bishop Keeps Disaster Relief on the Radar

A recent article in the Berkshire Eagle covered remarks given by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell about the continuing need to support the victims of Hurricane Irene.

McDonnell spoke at St. Joseph’s Parish Center on North Street where he acknowledged the difficulties for many families in Western Massachusetts in 2012 while praising the generosity and response of the community as a whole.

“The needs seem to be growing instead of declining,” said McDonnell.

Despite the demands, he said donors rose to the challenge and McDonnell called it the “miracle of the year that was so terrible otherwise.”

Specifically mentioned was the work of Higher Ground; Robin Lenz was present to talk about the effect donations from Catholic Charities have had on her efforts.

Representatives from Williamstown groups who assisted Irene victims were also on hand, saying the donations were beneficial to their efforts and came at a time when people were running out of options.

A total of 225 homes in a Williamstown mobile home park had to be abandoned when Irene hit last August, according to Robin Lenz of Higher Ground, a group formed in the wake of the storm. To date, only 66 homes have been cleared for occupancy and 153 will never be occupied again.

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Upcoming: The Misanthrope to Benefit Spruces

The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s reading of The Misanthrope will raise funds for Higher Ground’s work. The event will take place at The Clark on February 27 at 7pm. This article from Berkshire On Stage is a great overview of The Misanthrope and this particular reading.  As Larry Murray writes there:

The Williamstown Theatre Festival suffered its own losses as the Hoosic River flooded their prop and scenery storage facility causing severe damage. The residents of the Spruces and the staff of the Festival found they shared common ground. “Thanks to our supporters we have made great progress in recovering from that disaster,” said Jenny Gersten, WTF’s artistic director yesterday. “Jim Kolesar (VP of Public Affairs for Williams College) and I have talked about this a lot, and how Higher Ground was formed to provide assistance to the larger community, so when we began to plan our annual February play reading, it was a no-brainer as to who would be the beneficiary. It may have been serendipitous, but Higher Ground is now a major part of the community. They need ongoing support.”

Upcoming: Mardi Gras Pancake Dinner

Tuesday, February 21 we celebrate MARDI GRAS or Fat Tuesday, the traditional day for one last culinary fling before Lent, which begins the following day. This by-donation dinner is a benefit for Higher Ground and is open to the whole community. Current and former residents of The Spruces eat free! Come between 5-6:30 pm to listen to the Taylor Halperin Jazz Trio and enjoy Jeannie Ranney’s pancakes – blueberry, cranberry, apple, and chocolate chip – with flavored syrups, baked apples, sausage and beverages. There will also be cereal available for people silly enough not to like pancakes! To make a reservation or if you’d like to help in some way, call 413-458-4273 or e-mail

Download the Fat Tuesday Poster to distribute!

Rev. Don Remick, co-chair of the Disaster Resource Team of the MA Conference for the United Church of Christ, mentioned Higher Ground in a recent article. “Disaster Recovery: The Unprecedented Year Continues” discussed the difficulties of sustained disaster recovery, reminding us that “Disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. And it will still be a long time before folks discover a new normal: a new way of stable living.”

Rev. Remick mentions Higher Ground as an example of the faith-based effort to find this “new normal,” and writes:

One example of [faith-based initiatives] is in Williamstown. Following the flooding rains of Hurricane Irene, one whole mobile home park was left uninhabitable. Over 200 families were displaced. Only half of them have been allowed back. The rest will not be. The church formed a Long Term Recovery Group consisting of local leaders, federal and state guidance and non profit assistance. Led by our Rev. Carrie Bail, this group is ensuring that the most vulnerable of populations is not left unseen as life moves on for everyone else.