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Pittsfield Homeless Committee Considers Clients' Pets
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:10AM / Sunday, March 05, 2023
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With a new shelter on the horizon, the Homelessness Advisory Committee wants to address the issue of pet ownership in temporary housing.

On Wednesday, the panel decided to create a subcommittee to brainstorm solutions for unhoused residents with furry friends.

"One of the barriers to sheltering folks, not just housing them but even sheltering folks, are pets," Chair Kim Borden said.  
"Sometimes that pet is the one stable piece in their life and for whatever reason, that can be their saving grace, that's their only companionship, but it's a barrier to them being able to go into a shelter."

A majority of apartments for rent in the city do not allow pets.

According to ServiceNet, pets are not allowed a the shelter but service animals are.

ServiceNet's Director of Shelter and Housing Erin Forbush said this has been a part of her outreach in the past and expressed that it would make more sense to have a smaller group work on the topic and bring it back to the full committee.

Director of Community Development Justine Dodds thinks it is a great idea.

"We hear consistently that there's a number of different issues that really stop people from entering shelter and it's usually pets, partners, and property," she said.

"So pets is a big thing and if there was a way to have some creative thinking about how to address that that might be something actionable and small enough that we could get some momentum off."

It was emphasized that this effort is towards pets, as service animals are permissible.

This discussion came after Forbush reported that construction of the First United Methodist emergency shelter on Fenn Street should be completed this month with an anticipated opening in May.

"The long-awaited shelter at the First United Methodist Church should be completed, the construction stuff should be completed by the end of March, this month, and then we have some furniture to buy, stuff to set up," she said.

"And I am looking to maybe a May opening, I'm not giving any specific dates because I've lived this life long enough that dates aren't always held to but that is the plan for the spring."

The shelter has been in the planning process since 2020 when its location was approved. It will replace the current shelter at the former St. Joseph's High School which is operated by ServiceNet.

In the 6,000-square-foot layout, there will be up to 45 beds, meeting rooms, common areas, bathrooms with showers, and access to a fully upgraded commercial kitchen and dining area of approximately 3,000 square feet.

About two years ago, planners hoped to welcome people into the new shelter in April 2021. It was originally aimed to open early that year but regulatory delay and the onslaught of the COVID-19 surge slowed the process.

Last year, $354,500 of American Rescue Plan Act funds were allocated for the shelter. The total cost will be more than $900,000 and is also supported by a $200,000 earmark from the state and a $200,00 contribution from the city through Community Development Block Grants.

In the meantime, the shelter at the former St. Joseph High School will be in operation.  Forbush reported that the facility is currently open 24/7 rather than closing during the day.

"Our numbers are high," she said.

The average census has been about 60 people.

"So it's been a busy winter but it's also been a busy year," Forbush explained.  "Numbers slightly go up in the winter but I'm having similar numbers in nicer weather and that was not the trend in the past. So we're able to manage that. That's going fine. The high school allows us that space."


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