Forum to discuss homeless aid work



PITTSFIELD — An approaching winter season, housing crisis and lasting impacts of the pandemic have residents talking with renewed interest about how to help people experiencing homelessness in Pittsfield.

It’s a conversation that has spilled onto Facebook pages, City Council meetings and in the opinion and news pages of The Berkshire Eagle. And tonight, Mayor Linda Tyer will participate in a community forum to address the issue, covering topics surrounding homelessness such as emergency shelter, panhandling and housing options.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council, Tyer said the 6 p.m. forum — which will be aired on PCTV — will outline the network of local supportive agencies and city programs working to help unhoused residents.

The mayor gave the council a preview of that work, describing “a very comprehensive plan, as developed by my administration, to provide as much care as possible to those who are ready to receive help.”

Here are highlights from that presentation:

The long-awaited new emergency shelter at the First United Methodist Church on Fenn Street has a new opening date. Tyer said the project, which will move the city’s emergency shelter from the former St. Joseph’s High School, will be done sometime in the spring of 2023 — some three years after it was initially proposed.

The mayor said the city hoped to have the new shelter open by Nov. 1. She counted the need for extensive renovations to make the building accessible, supply chain problems and contractor issues as causes for the delay.
Community Development Director Justine Dodds is reportedly in talks with ServiceNet to keep the St. Joe’s shelter open 24/7 to residents from November through May. The shelter closes to residents between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the week.

The St. Joe’s shelter has a capacity for 50 people. The new Fenn Street shelter would have a 45-person capacity. The mayor said that her administration feels the 45 beds “should be sufficient to help us meet the needs of emergency crisis sheltering.”

The city is supporting a plan to add eight single- occupancy permanent supportive housing to the renovated second floor of the Zion Lutheran Church. The Berkshire Housing Development Development Corp., which is heading the project, is still working on a final memorandum of understanding with the congregation.

Regan Development Corp., a family-owned development group out of New York, will be developing the White Terrace Apartments into “affordable housing.”
The project will create 41 affordable units, according to Tyer.

The mayor said that 25 units will be affordable to people with incomes “at or below 60 percent of the area median income.” She said the remaining 16 units will be affordable to people at 30 percent of area median income and set aside for “homeless preference,” as well as state Department of Mental Health clients and people with disabilities who are working with community- based housing programs.

Tyer cited the 2020 census figure of $56,620 as the area median income.

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