According to officials in Marion, the impromptu emergency shelter that Marion and Mattapoisett opened at Old Rochester Regional High School during the March 13 storm worked out quite well, kicking off a conversation amongst the Marion Board of Health, Marion Public Health Nurse, and Marion Police Chief on April 10 about coordinating with their neighbors in regionalizing the shelter.
Marion Police Chief John Garcia told the board that Marion and Mattapoisett combined their shelters “out of necessity,” saying, “It wasn’t something that was done out of a plan.”
Garcia said that a telephone pole broke, which then blocked access to the rear of Sippican School, Marion’s designated emergency shelter.
“We were concerned for the safety of people coming through,” Garcia said. “It was done on the fly out of necessity. We intended on opening it up at Sippican School.”
Marion Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey pointed out some of the benefits of having the shelter at ORR, especially with staffing as a result of combining the two towns’ workers and volunteers. People who used the shelter appreciated having the library in which to pass the time, Downey said, and in longer-term shelter scenarios, the presence of the showers at ORR would be ideal.
Garcia said a regional shelter would be less taxing on Marion and Mattapoisett volunteers and personnel, as the two towns would be able to cover more ground and longer periods of time with more people between them, especially since on that night Mattapoisett was short on human resources.
There were some minor drawbacks, though, like the longer hike for senior citizens to get to the restrooms, and some aspects of communication were weak. Downey said at one point a post was circulating on Facebook saying the shelter would be closing at 6:00 pm, which neither police chief had announced.
This was only the beginning of the conversation, said Garcia, as other entities of the Town of Mattapoisett would need to be involved, but Garcia said that during a meeting last Friday with the police chiefs from Mattapoisett, Fairhaven, and soon-to-be Rochester Chief Robert Small, the chiefs considered it as an option worthy of exploration, as opposed to four separate shelters staffed and using up resources with maybe only three to five residents in need.
“That discussion has been started,” Garcia stated. “It’s just going to take some time to sit down with the other chiefs to see what we can work out,” he said, adding that local boards of health would also be involved.
Downey did mention that she had heard some “pushback” coming from Mattapoisett about the combining of the two shelters that night, although the decision was mutual between the two police chiefs.
Downey added that she found the school district – in Marion and Old Rochester Regional – especially supportive this year during the active storm season.
“They were just stupendous,” said Downey. At ORR, she said, “We had meals … when we got up to Old Rochester there was coffee and soup and munchies for people to have through the night.”
Garcia agreed, saying, “They’ve been very, very accommodating. I can’t say enough about the cooperation…”
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for April 24 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Health
By Jean Perry