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City Council Asks Mayor Tyer for 75K to Assist the Homeless
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:21AM / Monday, November 30, 2020
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council is pushing for Mayor Linda Tyer to set aside $75,000 from free cash to assist the homeless in acquiring temporary or permanent housing. 
 
The petition asking for this amount from Councilors Chris Connell, Kevin Morandi, Patrick Kavey, and Chairman of the Homelessness Prevention Commission Edward Carmel was referred to Mayor Linda Tyer at last week's council meeting. 
 
Kavey, of Ward 5, said this request was a starting point to discuss how much in funds would be allocated to them.
 
"I don't think that what happened in the spring was great with the shelter closing, and people living in a park doesn't work," Kavey said. "I'm just looking to make sure that doesn't happen again."
 
The temporary shelter set up at the former St. Joseph's School to comply with pandemic restrictions was closed in July, leading to many of the shelter's occupants camping in Springside Park.
 
Kavey said if Tyer can guarantee that won't happen again, he would support the mayor managing the allocation of these funds.
 
Tyer said the city would not use free cash as the first source in this scenario and is currently using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to provide resources to ServiceNet and other agencies working with the homeless.
 
She reiterated that the city officials have been meeting on a regular basis to develop a strategy and envisions using Community Development Block Grant funding or possibly Economic Development Funds to pay for a project.
 
"Using free cash is not an option or an appropriate source of funding for this particular project," Tyer said.
 
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio did not agree with a petition, saying Tyer will bring a request for funds forward once a plan is in place.  
 
There has been more than $150,000 already invested through main provider ServiceNet for food, shelter, and other things for the homeless, he said.
 
The main idea behind the petition was to ensure that if CARES or other funding doesn't come through, Pittsfield would use its own funds to support the homeless community, Kavey said.
 
He said he understands that the city is not a shelter provider but it should press ServiceNet to make sure it is providing people with a safe and clean place to be.
 
"As far as the First [Methodist] Church, I toured the property in September and it was pretty much ready to go," Kavey said of the shelter being set up there. "So I would like to see that utilized especially if we have additional people that are still living in our parks, this shouldn't be an issue."
 
Tyer said her team was not pleased with the closing of St. Joe's during the summer will do all they can to make sure there isn't another episode like that.
 
"We were very upset by the entire episode," she said. "It was an awful experience for the homeless residents and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent that happening in the future."
 
The shelter at the Fenn Street church will be possibly opening in early 2021, and Barton's Crossing will remain as a shelter after St. Joe's closes again on May 1. It is open now and people in Springside Park are being strongly encouraged to go there.
 
"We know that St. Joe isn't for everyone," the mayor said. "So we will do everything we can with our community partners to protect them with the best of our ability."
 
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon brought up some of ServiceNet's restrictions for entrance: St. Joe's is a dry shelter, making it more difficult for people who are currently abusing drugs or alcohol to enter.  
 
People under the influence are allowed to enter the shelter but cannot use substances while on the property.
 
Moon said she wished the shelter would emphasize harm reduction instead of making restrictions that turn those struggling with substance problems away.
 
"That raises a lot of concern for me because I understand their rationale for it," she said. "But I still question where people should go, especially as the weather gets colder and colder."
 
Moon said she trusts the administration's capacity to bring forward funding to help get a plan in place for permanent supportive housing, but thinks there is some merit in discussing avenues of temporary housing for people who can't be housed at ServiceNet's shelter.
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