by Aria Chitty and Keira Quinlan-Nardela
On July 17, Boston-based nonprofit FamilyAid proposed to convert the former Chetwynde Nursing Home, located at 1650 Washington Street in West Newton, into a Family Navigation Center. The proposal sparked questions from the community about its impact on the city and Newton Public Schools (NPS).
Family Navigation Centers are FamilyAid’s homelessness prevention and diversion projects that provide temporary housing and resources like job training, financial literacy classes and housing placement together in one facility. Their mission is to provide tenants with the skills to prevent future homelessness, something traditional shelters do not address.
The proposed facility would include 42 units of transitional housing for homeless families, along with programs and support services to help residents once they are out of FamilyAid’s care. President and CEO of FamilyAid Larry Seamans said he presented the renovation proposal to create a place where families can get the support they need.
“We want to create supportive services and educational programs to help [residents] get better jobs and get the training they need to support their parenting,” he said.
Seamans said that this facility differs from other temporary shelters because FamilyAid emphasizes assisting parents.
“Unlike a lot of the other programs, this is really focused on supporting the parents and getting to help their children,” he said.
The majority of children in the facility will be infants and preschoolers. A select number of children will be attending schools in Newton or receiving their education in their previous districts.
Superintendent Anna Nolin said that schools are prepared for an increase in students. “We’ve expanded our buffer zone to accommodate an influx of students for the two schools near the Family Aid property,” she said.
“If we have a lot more students than we anticipated, we’ll think about the ways we can distribute students to other schools.”
Nolin also said that NPS is prepared to help children who may have faced interrupted learning.
“We will work really hard on early intervention and making sure that families have high-quality childcare,” she said. “But NPS is not new to dealing with homeless families, and we have a lot of experience supporting [them].”
Director of Counseling Dan Rubin said that South has a lot of experience dealing with homeless students.
“Homelessness looks like a lot of different things for different people. Some people, in their mind, they’re picturing people on the street, they’re picturing people in cars,” he said. “In some instances, we’ve had situations where different family members were staying in different places because they couldn’t find temporary accommodations.”
Rubin said that the counseling staff will continue to cater to students’ needs.
“We would be doing our very best to make sure that in a way that was respectful of everyone’s confidentiality, that we would adapt whatever services we’re providing to meet their needs,” he said.
“When someone is faced with a situation like homelessness, my experiences have been that they are typically willing to accept whatever support is available. That’s not always the case.”
NPS stated that the FamilyAid program may require another bus or extra stops on existing bus routes. Sophomore Charlotte Maehr said that she doesn’t think South students will be greatly affected by the changes.
“There will not be that big of an impact because there are not a large number of students,” she said. “Even if in the future there are more students, it won’t really affect existing students because there are a ton of other children also being integrated into the school system.”
Freshman Hannah Alexander said students’ routes to school might be lengthened.
“It might take longer for students to get to school,” she said. “And if bus stops get added, [students] might be switched to different stops, which can be really confusing.”
Nolin said that NPS wants to help all family members in the facility, not just the children.
“We’re trying to simultaneously support the children and support the parents while they get job training. They need to move to the next level of support for their own families,” she said.
“With the family shelter, NPS hopes to be one of those employers that helps to accelerate the family’s integration into the community by providing opportunities to not only the children in the facility, but also their parents.”
As efforts on the proposal continue to expand, Ward 4 Councilor-at-Large Joshua Krintzman said that he is excited for its evolution.
“I am an enthusiastic supporter of the family proposal,” he said. “It is a long-term proposal that would provide housing for families in need of housing indefinitely. It would provide some programming and some services that will also help those families to attain long term housing solutions and not have to stay in the shelter, which really excites me.”