Pittsfield Homelessness Panel Commits to Frequent Outreach




PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Homelessness Advisory Committee is planning regular community outreach after holding a successful housing resource fair.

The panel voted last week to host the fairs on a quarterly basis. The events offer a variety of resources and assistance to people seeking help with accessing stable and secure housing.

“I think that shows our desire to move forward and continue to build connections,” Director of Community Development Justine Dodds said.

Erin Forbush, ServiceNet’s director of shelter and housing, said educating people on the help available is a “relatively easy lift.”

The first housing resource fair was in April and included Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, Elder Services of Berkshire County, Second Street Second Chances Inc., ServiceNet, Soldier On and the Christian Center.

For a fall fair, the panel is considering hosting it outside in the downtown area rather than inside the Berkshire Athenaeum. The Common was one of the venues that was mentioned, which would require approval from the Parks Commission.

The committee submits an annual report to Mayor Linda Tyer that outlines its efforts to address homelessness and housing insecurity. These events will be featured in the report.

Staff members from the Pittsfield Housing Authority also spoke about Section 8 priority for at-risk and homeless households.  A person can apply for priority preference if they are a veteran, or have been displaced due to homelessness, a fire or a natural disaster. There is also a local priority preference.

The housing authority is working with the Alternative Housing Voucher Program through the Common Housing Application for Massachusetts programs to process these, which has made it more efficient.

“We’ve had a very good turnaround in the last couple of months with our program,” Chelsea Gancarz of the housing authority said

Forbush said she has gotten a wealth of feedback from her team about how well ServiceNet and the housing authority are working together.

“I want to be able to say how many people’s lives we are all able to change with these resources,” she said.

“ServiceNet runs the family shelter and the individual shelter here in Pittsfield and we’re seeing easily, in any given day, we’re working directly with 100-plus people that could use this service and I’m not even going to count my outreach work.”

She said searching for units is a whole other hurdle but appreciates the resource.

The lengthy paperwork process was identified as a barrier and Dodds wondered if there was advocacy work that the committee could do to address this. With the CHAMP program, applicants need to return the required documentation in 10 business days.

Council President Peter Marchetti found the presentation enlightening.

“One of the things that we hear as a city councilor all the time is all the agencies don’t really work together and so today was kind of a big piece to be able to show that there’s a lot more collaboration than we can showcase in some sense,” he said, suggesting that the panel creates a pamphlet or flow chart with information on services.

Chair Kim Borden said the committee has some good ideas and is off to a great start.

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