Some residents of Hyannis could soon have new neighbors. The Barnstable County Sheriff's Department is looking to open a half-way house program downtown. As Chloe Shelford reports, the plan could be controversial because Hyannis is a draw for tourists, and the village has received complaints about its large and visible homeless population.
The program would take place in the Pilot House on School Street. The building used to be a CHAMP Homes program for newly sober men, and it’s currently being renovated. In a phone conversation, Special Sheriff Jeff Perry said the program at Pilot House would be an important part of the jail’s re-entry program.
Safe and healthy housing for the formerly homeless and newly sober is hard to find, Perry said, and what the Sheriff’s department doesn’t want to do is drop a newly released inmate off at a homeless shelter.
CHAMP Homes Executive Director Beth Wade said her organization has been re-evaluating how to best meet its mission and is looking at several options for the property.
“In the course of some conversations with the community, I met with Jeff Perry from the Sheriff's Department and it sounded like perhaps CHAMP Homes would be able to partner with the Sheriff's Department to provide to meet a real need in the community,” Wade said. “That’s how this all came about.”
The project has not been debated publicly because the Sheriff does not need approval from the town, even though some Hyannis officials are trying to move these sort of programs out of the downtown tourist area. Town Councilor Jen Cullum said that in this situation, Hyannis residents really don’t have a say.
“It's actually not in the town's purview to manage those sorts of things. We're talking about a protected class of people that are not held to regulatory meetings like that,” Cullum said. “Basically the sheriff's office can trump the town on this.”
Cullum is critical of the halfway house idea. She said Hyannis is already overburdened with numerous social services programs.
“Hyannis has all of the city problems and none of the city benefits, meaning that there's no reimbursement for the locals,” Cullum said. “It's not that we don't want to help, but we've been helping and been the only ones helping for two decades now, really.”
Officials say that the Pilot house could accommodate around twenty residents. Both Beth Wade of CHAMP homes and Special Sheriff Perry emphasize that this project is not final yet. A state agency will inspect the house this week.
Chloe Shelford is WCAI's winter intern. She is a junior at Bennington College in Vermont.