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Advocates Concerned for Pittsfield Unsheltered as Winter Deepens
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:48AM / Saturday, January 02, 2021
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Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio has asked for an investigation into why more people aren't taking advantage of the homeless shelter at St. Joe's.


Tents sprang up around the city this past summer.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — As 2020 drew to an end, around 70 individuals remained unsheltered or housing insecure in Pittsfield as winter weather descends on the county. 
 
"I don't believe our homeless are being well taken care of, I believe the city is painting a pretty picture when there's not one there," Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio said. "People are treating these individuals like a pack of wild animals and not like human beings, and I have an issue with that."
 
Local homelessness advocates say the city needs to take a different approach to aid the unsheltered population.
 
At the time of Pittsfield's last City Council meeting, non-profit Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community reported that 72 individuals in the city were currently unsheltered. This number included people tenting throughout Pittsfield, sleeping in empty buildings, sleeping in cars, and those who are couch surfing.
 
County coordinator Jean-Marie Laurin said this number hasn't changed drastically since.
 
Some suggested actions include utilizing collaboration, investigating claims made about ServiceNet's shelter at the former St. Joseph's High School, providing a warming shelter for daytime hours when the shelter is not open, adopting trauma-informed care, and using a "Housing First" model approach with the end goal of providing permanent supported housing to these individuals.
 
"So much of it is just letting folks know that they have someone to listen, and someplace safe and warm to be," Laurin said.
 
Maffuccio has not been happy with the progress that his petition calling for the investigation of abuse and human rights violations at ServiceNet's shelter has made since the last council meeting.
 
He said things are moving slowly, and it seems that the city does not want to go down that path because ServiceNet is its only shelter provider.
 
"There has to be an obvious reason on why at least 70 individuals are living in the wilderness when there are beds available," Maffuccio said.  
 
Volunteer homelessness advocate Regina White is on a first-name basis with many of these unsheltered folks. While assisting them over the summer, she said she was surprised to learn they hadn't been advised to fill out permanent housing applications by ServiceNet's shelter at St. Joe, which was then closed. White was able to help them submit nearly 82 applications to the city.
 
White commended Western Mass RLC, which raised more than $13,000 for survival gear to support those displaced by the closing of ServiceNet's shelter over the summer, opened its doors to the unsheltered population so they can have a warm place to relax and to use a computer, and give them assistance with various forms of paperwork.
 
The RLC, which is in an accessible location on North Street, is currently open Wednesdays through Fridays, though somewhat limited in access by COVID-19 restrictions.
 
Since securing funds to provide unsheltered folks with tenting equipment during the warmer months, Laurin and RLC team have been since focusing on assisting them with important paperwork from entities such as the Department of Transitional Assistance, Social Security, apartment searches, personal identifications, and birth certificates.
 
"We're a fairly small organization just doing a lot," Laurin said.
 
Laurin is more than disappointed that the city has not provided a warming shelter yet. In early December, Mayor Linda Tyer announced that the final elements of a daytime warming center at the Christian Center are being put into place, but it has not come to fruition yet.
 
"This is something that should have happened back in June, we knew winter was coming," Laurin said.
 
The RLC, along with other advocates, is more than concerned about the multifaceted homeless crises that have exploded in Pittsfield. Laurin said the immediate crunch is the fact that temperatures are dropping, there are reports of abuse and misconduct at the reopened St. Joe's shelter, there is a lack of transparency and accountability over whether these claims are true or not, and there is no warming shelter.
 
"I would like to say that trauma-based care would just be common sense," Laurin said. "But I think you're looking at an entire system of exhausted people and I think we could be doing a lot better."
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