Common to Reopen to Public, Not Campers





GREENFIELD — The tape and sawhorses will be removed and the benches will be put back on the Common on Monday, according to Department of Public Works Field Superintendent Paul Raskevitz.

He said he is happy with the way the grass grew in after a homeless encampment was removed in late summer, and he added, “everything looks beautiful.”

Starting in August, the Common was closed to allow for cleaning and reseeding, after about 20 homeless campers were evicted from the Common where they had been for most of the summer. The grass had been trampled and died where tents had been pitched.

After town officials initially allowed the camping thinking they had no legal means to evict the squatters, the Board of Health and Board of License Commissioners concluded they had jurisdiction and ordered the campers off the Common.

Mayor William Martin says that when the Common reopens, there will be no overnight camping and no temporary housing allowed without a permit from the Board of Health.

“It’s been determined temporary housing which needs permits and if no one has applied for one they don’t have the ability to do that,” Haigh said. “Regardless, what happened before can’t happen again.”

He said the police do not intend on arresting people, unless a person violates the law. He said he could see cause to charge people with destruction of property if damage is caused like it was in August.

Martin said there will be signs posted on the Common stating “no overnight camping,”  and if someone were to be in violation, Haigh said there would be a trespassing situation.

“If they are trespassed from the property and then refuse to leave, then an arrest is a possibility,” Haigh said. “The owner of the property can issue a trespass order through the sheriff or court system, but if there is a need it can be immediately dealt with at that time.”

Haigh also has concerns with “just letting the police handle and deal with it.”

“I don’t think sleeping on the Common is safe for anyone, and I don’t want to see that happen again, but anything with a police end-all, be-all, where we are the bad guys and go on and kick them out or do a fine – I don’t think that would give us the teeth we need either,” Haigh said.

The homeless question

Although people are not allowed to camp on the Common without permits, the topic of homelessness is still being discussed by the City Council.

In the City Council Community Relations and Education Committee meeting on Monday, a discussion on homelessness was added to the agenda to give the committee and residents an update.

Councilor Isaac Mass said the committee “wanted to make sure this conversation continued to be on the agenda during a period of time when people were on the Common and see what is being done and can still be done.”

Senior Vice President of Shelter and Housing, Vocational and Addiction Services at ServiceNet, Jay Sacchetti, spoke with the committee about updates to its Wells Street overnight emergency shelter, including an addition of 14 beds for individuals from November through January.

There are a total of 22 beds currently at the shelter. The increase will bring it to 36 beds.

“We are moving forward with our expansion of our Wells Street shelter on the second floor,” Sacchetti said. “The architect finished the site plan on Friday, and today I communicated with the landlord hopefully we will be able to get together to discuss it.”

He said once the bathrooms and alarm systems are completed, the project will be completed quickly, hoping to have the expansion open on Nov. 1.

“Where it goes from there will probably be further conversation between myself and the Department of Housing and Community Development and the city as to the future of the funding,” Sacchetti said. “Right now we can anticipate having those beds open for the winter. There has been an increase (in the state budget) in the individual line item for individual shelters which is always greatly underfunded. Hopefully we can grab some of those dollars maybe a permanent winter expansion.”

Sacchetti said the shelter currently runs on $220,000 a year to provide two shifts of staffing seven days a week, with two meals a day.

Mass said he hoped the governor’s housing bill would pass in the informal session of the Legislature that has additional money for homelessness, urging Sacchetti to look into it.

“Are there any barriers or road blocks that the city is putting up to you providing the additional service you provide?” Mass asked.

Sacchetti said he sees barriers as “the book of regulations which make it difficult to try to establish something quickly.”

He said in other ServiceNet locations like Northampton, Pittsfield or Orange, some towns provide federal community development funds or the United Way of Franklin County has helped provide some funding.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag of how communities assist us,” Sacchetti said. “We get about 65 percent from the state and they expect that the rest comes from communities.”

However, the issue of homeless isn’t going away or getting resolved any time soon.

Sacchetti said at any of the SerivceNet shelters there is a 40 person waiting list year round. 

“You can’t build enough beds. If you built 100 beds, there would be 100 people that would find those beds and they would come from everywhere – that’s how overwhelming the problem is,” said Sacchetti. “I’ve been doing this stuff for 39 years. I’ve never seen it like it is in this past year.”

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