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Homeless Continue to Leave Pittsfield Parks
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
02:26AM / Wednesday, September 16, 2020
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Numbers at the Springside Park homeless encampment continue to decrease and city employees are cleaning up vacated campsites.
Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath told the Parks Committee on Tuesday that, as expected, the people who have been camping there are moving on as summer turns to fall.
"We are seeing the numbers of those living at the park go down," McGrath said. "Certainly with the cooler weather that is upon us, I think we will continue to see numbers fall." 
With the closing of the temporary homeless shelter at the former St. Joseph's High School in July, an influx of homeless residents made Springside Park their home this summer.
This issue was compounded with COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, and the current shelter at Barton's Crossing can only house 10 beds.
The city has allowed the homeless to stay in the parks and have supplied portable toilets and hand-washing stations.
McGrath said he believes there are now between 12 and 20 people staying at the park. This number was more than 50 over the summer.
ServiceNet and other providers are still meeting with these residents and meeting their needs, he said.
"They are really trying to access their needs," he said. "If there are requests that are made for various items that are needed ServiceNet does the best they can to match those folks with what they are needing." 
McGrath said city staff are keeping track of camps that appear to be vacant. After a period of time, they call in ServiceNet, which will determine if the site is abandoned and if there are are any personal belongings to collect.
"We look over these encampments and determine if they really are abandoned and if there is anything of value," he said. "... We give them a week to 10 days in case someone comes back."
He said these items are then given to ServiceNet, which will store them. McGrath said as a safety precaution, city staff are not responsible for returning any items or holding on to them.  
"From a safety perspective, we understand that there is drug activity there, and we want to make sure our city workers are safe," he said. "There is a real team approach to understanding and reviewing these sites."
In other business, Recreation Activities Coordinator Becky Manship gave her report and said the annual Halloween Parade has been canceled because of the pandemic.
"It was a hard decision to make," she said.
Manship said she will be working with Pittsfield Community Television to develop a special looking back on the parade.
"So not all is lost," she said. "I am looking forward to that."
As for Halloween itself, Manship said they have yet to make a decision and are waiting on state guidance before canceling or setting guidelines.
"We are still undetermined on that, but as soon as we have an update, we will be sharing that with you," she said.
Manship said since high school athletics in the city canceled for the fall, the fields have opened up. She said there are many groups that have not used the fields in the past requesting use.
She said because of the unique situation this year, the department has decided not to charge for the extra field usage this season. But the city is not supplying lining services 
Commissioner Simon Muil said he thought it was a good idea to encourage people to safely use the city fields.
"We are really just supplying the green grass, and at this point, I am in favor of anything that can get the kids running around," he said. "... as long as they are practicing the best practices."
Manship said each group is given up to date regulations and must sign a COVID-19 affidavit. 
The commission reappointed Michele Matthews as is representative on the Community Preservation Act Committee. 
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