But Atkins said they do intend to enforce the new policy.
“The primary concern we have is supporting the health and well-being of the people we work with who are working very hard to end their homelessness,” she said. “And over-crowded conditions and having people who may not observe the rules of the shelter, which are pretty stringent, can cause difficulty for the people who are here.”
Cote said this change in policy is another reflection that Lifebridge has really changed its mission from a homeless shelter to a housing and service program.
In fact, he does not call the facility a “homeless shelter,” and instead says they offer “transitional beds” in a basement dormitory. They also have 22 apartments for “permanent” housing in adjacent buildings.
Lifebridge is focused on ending homelessness, he said, which means working with people who are sober and have case workers and service plans. The goal, he said, is to get people back on their feet and into jobs and housing.
The issue of homelessness, he also noted, is regional — not just a Salem problem.
Yet the winter overflow of homeless people at Lifebridge comes from Salem and beyond.
“We have a large homeless population, especially for dinner, and I know they used to walk over (to Lifebridge) when it was really cold,” said Alyse Barbash, executive director of Haven From Hunger, a Peabody food program.
Since Peabody has no shelter, Haven from Hunger does what it can, Barbash said. “What we try to do,” she said, “is make sure we have lots of coats, blankets and socks that will keep them warm.”
The only other local homeless shelters are in Beverly, Gloucester and Lynn. Of those, only Lynn regularly accepts additional homeless on cold nights. Except in dire emergencies, the others stick to the numbers on their occupancy permits.