Local Foundation, Town Funded Post Help Watertown’s Homeless and Needy

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{This is the second story in a series of articles on homeless and needy in Watertown}

Watertown’s neediest have few places to turn, but when they are in their direst moments there are a couple places to turn. 

Those in need of money to keep the heat or lights on, or even to put a meal on the table, can go to the Helen Robinson Wright Foundation.

Nancy Dutton, administrator of the the Robinson Foundation, said she often sees people at wit’s end. 

“People get down to zero in their heating oil,” Dutton said. “They come to you on the last day.”

The harsh winter has made for an increase in need in Watertown. The first quarter of 2014 the foundation gave out $20,000 in aid, and in mid-March they had already spent $5,000 more than the previous year, Dutton said.

The money goes straight to pay the bill, said Mark Harris, minister at First Parish Church of Watertown, where the Wright Foundation is located.

“They are never grants of cash,” Harris said. “It is a check to the electric company, to the fuel company or food gift cards.”

The Helen Robinson Wright Foundation was founded in the mid-1980s after a former parishioner left her home to the church in her will. The house – the historic Miles Pratt House on Mt. Auburn Street – was sold and proceeds were used to establish the foundation in her name.

“She did not say in her will what she wanted the church to do,” Harris said. “But she had been a generous person. Out of her own pocket she helped a lot of people. We wanted to keep her memory alive through the church and foundation.”

For many years, the foundation would give grants to local groups that helped the needy in Watertown. Things have changed, Harris said.

“We started to transition more to helping individuals, and now we give almost exclusively to individuals,” Harris said.

A foundation board used to be in charge of deciding who would get grants, but with more emergency cases, they decided to bring on Dutton to run the foundations and decide who should get aid.

In the last couple years, she has had some help by way of Social Services Resource Specialist Danielle DeMoss. Through a grants provided by the Town of Watertown and private foundations, the position is a two-year pilot to help connect people to resources.

DeMoss can help people navigate the complicated state Department of Transitional Assistance process. For instance, Dutton and DeMoss recently helped someone get a post office box sot they could sign up for state assistance, which is not as easy as one might think, Harris said.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Harris said. “You need a mailing address to documents mailed to you, but often people don’t have a home.”

Even qualifying for the state’s fuel assistance program can be a challenge. To become eligible people must fill out an application and have an interview – which is done the office for Watertown’s region, located in Lowell.

When she realized that was a difficult thing for people to do, DeMoss got trained to do intakes for the fuel assistance, and not does them at her office at the Wayside Multi Service Center on North Beacon Street in Watertown.

DeMoss also has a mental health background, which can help her guide people to the proper programs, as well as deal with some of the tougher situations.

“People are living paycheck to paycheck,” DeMoss said. “They are almost in a trauma state when they come to me.”

The two-year pilot comes to an end in October 2015, and must be renewed by the Town Council.

The total given to the position is $50,000, including salary and other costs. It was half funded by the town’s Harvard/O’Neil Charitable Fund, which is coming to an end because the Arsenal on the Charles was sold by Harvard University to athenahealth. The other half comes from donors: Watertown Savings Bank, the Commission on Disabilities, the Helen Robinson Wright Foundation, Watertown Community Foundation, Mt. Auburn Hospital and Perkins School for the Blind.

Dutton strongly advocates for making the Social Services Resource Specialist a permanent one.

“The town absolutely needs to keep Danielle’s position and fund it through the town,” Dutton said. “We do our part, but we do not have the resources to give people the resources they need. Before Danielle it was so frustrating.”

The Social Services Resource Specialist will be on the agenda of an upcoming Town Council meeting.

Danielle DeMoss can be reached at 617-744-9585 or email her Danielle_DeMoss@waysideyouth.org

Previous story in the series:

Watertown’s Unseen Homeless Problem is Growing

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