PITTSFIELD’S NEW HOMELESS PREVENTION COMMITTEE OUTLINES EARLY GOALS

BY AMANDA DRANE

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH, 2018

THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

PITTSFIELD — To better help homeless people, the city and service providers need to improve the lines of communication.

That was the conclusion Monday of members of a new committee charged with tackling the issue of homelessness in the Berkshires.

As an example, said Cheryl Bassett, site manager for Barton’s Crossing, there’s a misconception that the shelter has been turning people away.

While there might be a waiting list for rooms, the shelter will still find a place in the building to bring people in from the cold.

“There is a lot of breakdown in communication,” she said.

At its first meeting, the city’s new Homeless Prevention Committee set its first mission — to take stock of existing services in Pittsfield and make sure people are aware of them.

The City Council approved the committee’s creation in September after city resident Ed Carmel, Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo and Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon spearheaded its rebirth. The city formerly had a committee devoted to the issue, but it fizzled out during the 1990s.

Newly appointed members of the 15-member committee represent various segments of the city, from the homeless community itself, to community advocates, service providers and branches of city government.

Representatives from ServiceNet, which runs Barton’s Crossing, and the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority said there is a lot happening on the issue of homelessness in the Berkshires that people don’t hear about.

Bassett said the staff is always working to bring more people into the fold. She said she ventured out to homeless camps in snowpants last week in hopes of bringing people back to the shelter.

“Some people come and some people don’t,” she said, noting some have mental health and substance use disorders that keep them from the shelter, while others don’t want to be separated from their partners in accordance with the shelter’s one person per room policy.

Carmel, who used to be homeless, said he envisions a Pittsfield hub where homeless people can find food and see a medical professional.

“I want them to tell us what they need,” he said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Carmel was elected by the committee to be its chairman.

Zachari Durso, a city resident elected to serve as the committee’s co-chairman, said he first encountered the homeless problem in Pittsfield when a family member rented an apartment that at the time housed 12 people. Couch surfing is a way people in Pittsfield cope with chronic housing issues, he said, and that’s something he has firsthand experience with.

Mazzeo called for frequent meetings in the coming weeks as a means to gain momentum in the face of freezing temperatures.

Still, she said, “we’re not going going to fix this overnight.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.

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