Board of Health’s Enforcement Authority Turns Toward Helping Residents

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The Board of Health has a lot of code enforcement authority.

But during these extraordinary times, some of that enforcement, enhanced by collaborative departments, is being directed to helping residents in need.

Heidi Porter, director of Health and Human Services, stressed that point at Monday’s virtual meeting of the Board of Health.

She recounted a recent emergency call to the Fire and Police Departments, who discovered that the residence had no heat or water and flagged her office. Municipal agencies collaborated to provide needed services, she related.

The social worker from her office plus his counterpart with the Council on Aging contacted the resident with help for fuel service. “With the social workers, we can massage these cases, reach out on a personal level, and provide access to services,” Porter told the board. “We let them know what is available and then help them with access. We are not always successful, which then might mean taking enforcement action to promote compliance with applicable codes.”

The community health nurse also reached out. Now the department hopes to get access to inspect the house; everyone has to comply with sanitary codes, including heat and hot water, she said.

There are other circumstances that arise, such as hoarding. “Typically, what it entails is getting other family members involved,” said Porter.

Long-time board member Bea Brunkhorst said there are 78 households taking advantage of the town’s weekly food bank, close to 100 percent more than before the onset of the pandemic. She expressed concern about prospects for funding.

The director said funding for supplies looks secure for 2021. However, she is currently seeking to secure funds for town staff managing the food bank, as those federal funds supporting that operation expire at the end of 2020.

Porter said much of the food distributed is supplied at no cost by the Greater Boston Food Bank. She noted that an emergency allocation from the town is being used to purchase healthy food to supplement and balance the provisions from the regional source. Produce donations from the Gaining Ground nonprofit farm in Concord ended with the warm weather, so the food bank is now acquiring frozen vegetables and meats. Discussion is continuing with town financial managers, she said.

Carla Olsen, the “Healthy Communities” coordinator in the Youth and Family Services office, directs the food bank. Porter noted that there is also a supply of diapers and personal items distributed to those in need through the food bank and the social workers.

“This is a big time of the year for people wanting to celebrate so we are having Thanksgiving meals for those who sign up,” Porter said. She mentioned other contributors, like Temple Shalom Emeth of Burlington planning to provide Christmas meals and the organization Cradles to Crayons supplying winter coats.

There is also a group of residents making mittens, scarves, and hats, she added.

Residents should call 781-275-7727 for more information about receiving counseling services, food, holiday meals, help with utilities, diapers, personal items, winter clothing, or other concerns.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at, or 781-983-1763
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