With so many people in the building, it was difficult to run programs for the people living in transitional or permanent housing who come for services, Cote said.
“It was mayhem, absolute mayhem,” he said.
There are also public safety and health concerns, he said. The state health code, for example, does not allow areas where food is served to be used as sleeping rooms, according to Health Agent Larry Ramdin.
Cote said he has talked with city officials and police about the changes. He also has let them know that in emergencies, Lifebridge will take temporary measures to ensure public safety.
“We will continue to work with the (Police Department’s) Community Impact Unit and the Police Department to work with anybody at risk in the winter,” Cote said.
On extremely cold nights, Salem police will follow their past practice of visiting homeless camps and, in emergencies, bringing people to the shelter, according to police Chief Paul Tucker.
“I can’t emphasize enough the relationship we have with Mark Cote and his staff,” said Tucker. “They have been very good partners with us.” He noted that one of his officers, Sgt. Harry Rocheville, is on the Lifebridge board.
“They’re in the business of taking care of people, as we are, and we’re not going to put anybody at risk,” Tucker said.
Nevertheless, it appears fewer homeless will find temporary shelter at Lifebridge this winter.
Lifebridge’s board decided to end its open-door policy after a lengthy discussion, according to Lynda Fairbanks Atkins, the board president. Asked if the vote was unanimous, she said: “The board is behind this move.”
She stressed that Lifebridge will continue to work with outside agencies to make sure nobody is put at risk. “It’s never our desire to have anyone left out on a cold and freezing night, and we don’t intend to do that,” she said.