|Pittsfield Forms Homeless Prevention Committee|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
07:24PM / Wednesday, September 26, 2018
|Councilors Melissa Mazzeo, in the photo, and Helen Moon, not pictured, filed the petition to restart the committee.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Before attending Tuesday's City Council meeting Debbie Vall dropped someone off in a wooded area of the city with a tent.
It was all she could do for the homeless man. There weren't any shelters available, no temporary housing. And off he went, exposed to the rain that has been drenching the county for the last few days.
"What I am concerned about is immediate shelter," Vall, who is the assistant director at the Christian Center said.
In just the last two weeks, Vall said a family of five came into the center with no place to go. Four people reported that they were camping out at the Common. Two people were sleeping in cars. One person was sleeping in the woods and three people were squatting in abandoned houses. And those are just the ones who had gone to the Christian Center for help. Just a few weeks ago, Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless reported that there are 47 city students currently homeless.
It isn't an issue that has gone unnoticed in the city as residents have more and more homeless people camping out in various locations. Often city residents will call Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon and ask, "what is the city doing about this?"
For a while, she would respond by telling them about the countywide organizations working on the homeless issue, but she never had much to specifically say the city was doing.
"I was proud to respond that we are making a homeless committee," Moon said.
Moon knew the issue well when she worked on North Street and has certainly noticed the number of homeless people camping out in her ward, specifically in Springside Park. Earlier this year she was contacted by Edward Carmel, who had spent some time living on the streets, asking the same question so many others asked Moon. And he wanted to do something. He proposed the committee and Moon and Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo gladly filed a petition to reactive a dormant committee for homelessness.
Having been there before, Carmel knows the physical and mental struggles the homeless population goes through. He knows so many of them and still sees them on the street when he stopped and chats with them. He also knows how difficult it is for them to walk into a big social service agency and ask for help. For all of 2018, this homeless committee being formed to do something to help each and every one of those people became Carmel's passion.
"We can't prevent what we already have, homeless. But we can prevent future homeless," Carmel said.
On Tuesday, the committee received its final approval from the City Council. It is now up to the mayor to make the appointments and get it going. Mazzeo said there is some urgency because "winter is coming" and the Ordinance and Rules subcommittee had already expedited the formation of it.
While the committee is being reactivated with unanimous support, Councilor at Large Pete White said it isn't the only thing the city is doing. He said a "significant amount of money" for years has been spent from the federal Community Development Block Grant to support shelters and organizations. But this committee is a chance to do something different.
Councilor Vice President John Krol agrees with the committee saying it can enhance the current efforts being done and come up with "innovative" solutions.
"This is an opportunity to think much differently and if there are things that haven't been tried here but have been in other communities and have worked, we should go for it," Krol said.
Alicia Costa is the director of Working Cities and she tells the same story as Vall and she says, "these are people I know and care about and it is a horrible feeling when they ask me because I can't help them." Costa doesn't believe the homeless issues can be solved by one organization or one individual.
Costa said it needs more than just the social workers or just the housing organizations — it is going to require the city as a collective body to solve it.
With the committee reactivated, she believes solving the issue can and will happen.
"We can tackle this issue together and then we can say 'remember when we had a homeless problem but we solved it together,'" Costa said.