HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Outside Holyoke City Hall Tuesday evening, residents gathered before the start of the city council meeting to voice their concerns.

The organization ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ hosted a rally calling on Mayor Joshua Garcia to increase the Public Safety Department budget in efforts to research a ‘community response model.’ This is in response to the city’s plans to implement ShotSpotters in the downtown area.

People at the rally hoped the city and police department will focus on mental health, as well as social and addiction support in order to create safer neighborhoods.

“We are calling for real solutions, not band aids. We don’t want the illusion of being safe. We want a community where are needs are being met and we do not have to fight over resources,” said Katie Talbot from Neighbors to Neighbors.

Holyoke’s Mayor Garcia provided the following statement:

“My decision about ShotSpotter was influenced by what I learned during long hours of knocking on doors in downtown neighborhoods during the campaign. I listened to the residents then, and I’m still listening. As mayor, I have regular discussions with downtown residents who express concern to me regarding their safety. People understand, including me, that ShotSpotter is not necessarily the solution to gun violence. But Holyoke residents appreciate the city acknowledging their concern and investing in their safety.

As for the community response model, the City of Holyoke has already adopted that strategy through various creative initiatives. We have the Holyoke Hub — a strategic and focused community response collaborative involving several organizations and health and human service professionals working toward creating better outcomes for our city’s at-risk population.

We also maintain a Community Service Center on Race Street, an alternative response model from traditional policing, offering aid to people struggling with such issues as opioid addiction, homelessness, elderly abuse, and other challenges. The city partners with the Behavioral Health Network, which works out of the Community Service Center. The center also interacts with the Holyoke Hub.

At City Hall, I’m budgeting to create a Housing Navigator/Homeless Liaison position to supplement the community response work we’re already involved in. And I’m proud to partner with organizations such as Hope for Holyoke, Roca, Odyssey House, Viability, Nueva Vida community re-entry services, and more that are boots-on-the-ground interventions for our most vulnerable.

In addition to this, the city has invested in mental health services through the YMCA, Roca, River Valley Counseling, and Girls Inc. We provide support to the Valley Opportunity Council and Allianza, agencies that respond to Domestic Violence. We also directed HOME-ARP funds specifically for homeless intervention. And the city is working with CHD to open 40 units of low-threshold housing for people who are unsheltered and chronically homeless. We provide funding to agencies offering rental assistance, food assistance, transportation, meal deliveries, job training, after-school care, youth programming, homeownership, pop-up homeless warming shelters, and transitional housing. And we are in the process of bringing back the Youth Commission and working to offer resources to organizations that help establish neighborhood associations.

Our response team and the Holyoke Hub are working together for appropriate outreach and coordinated referrals.

I appreciate Neighbor to Neighbor’s willingness to offer solutions. In many ways, the work they want to see is already being done. Where I can really use help is for organizations such as Neighbor to Neighbor to mobilize and put pressure on state and federal representatives to help cities and towns respond to the nationwide opioid and homelessness issues because there is only so much an already struggling community such as Holyoke can do to address problems that originate beyond our borders.”