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Berkshire 'Point In Time' Count on Homelessness Likely to Increase
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:43AM / Monday, February 12, 2024
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The count that gauges local homelessness was taken on Jan. 31 this year and the number is expected to increase over last year based on city and nationwide trends.

On the day of last year's Point In Time count, Jan. 25, there were at least 221 homeless people: 180 in shelters, 31 unsheltered, and 10 who were couch surfing or in other temporary shelters.  

On Wednesday, Director of Community Development Justine Dodds told the Homelessness Advisory Committee that generally, the city has noticed an upward trend that is likely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately affected the most vulnerable populations.

In 2021, the PIT count showed 110 unsheltered people in the city and that number rose to 158 in 2022.

"I think part of it has to do with the end of some of the COVID-era policies that were in place that were helping people for a little bit and then suddenly they have they've ended and we're seeing a kind of Cliff effect," Michele LaFleur, data and evaluation manager for Community Action Pioneer Valley said.

In September of 2023, all eviction moratoriums related to the pandemic ended.

The PIT is an attempt to determine how many people are experiencing homelessness in Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. It is mostly done through a series of surveys but also includes information from local service providers.

In Berkshire County, a lot of it comes from ServiceNet and the Elizabeth Freeman Center.

The PIT took a count on Jan. 31 and had until Wednesday to finish collecting data. The results, which will be presented to the committee, are shared with the state and federal government and as part of their annual homelessness report to Congress.

It is also used locally to inform sheltering needs.

In addition to questions about mental health, chronic physical conditions, substance use conditions, and the reason why a person may be experiencing homelessness, this year's survey asked participants what resources could help them obtain or maintain stable housing.

"As part of our outreach for the county, we sent out a survey and kind of a letter with some information about the count asking people to help us identify those that they're working with who are experiencing homelessness,"  LaFleur added.

"And that survey gets sent out to an email contact list that has over 500 email addresses on it. Including a lot of municipalities, police departments, that kind of thing."

Dodds said the importance of the PIT cannot be stressed enough, as it affects the amount of funds that come to the county when there is an accurate count that reflects the needs while understanding the impact of homelessness in the community.

"While that might be an uncomfortable number for a lot of us, it's still something we need to recognize and be able to have a goal to work to work towards," she said.

Also on Wednesday, the media and Mayor Peter Marchetti toured the new 40-bed ServiceNet shelter "The Pearl," which is at capacity and has more than 30 people on the waitlist.

The facility has been operating for about three weeks now after years of planning.

"This is extremely exciting because I feel like I've been coming and telling you guys this for her way too long and it's really real, we're there," Director of Shelter and Housing Erin Forbush told the committee.

She added that the shelter, located at 21 Pearl St. behind First United Methodist Church, has had great reviews from guests. It includes three dorms with bunk beds and attached bathroom, recreation areas, handicapped restrooms, and a laundry room and is said to be a dramatic step up from the former shelter at Saint Joseph's High School.

"It's an old building but it's a new space to us so it's brand-new bathrooms, bright colored painted walls. It's just a cleaner feeling space, a more modern space from what we've been used to with our previous addresses," she said.

"And we have been able to take in 40 people, that is what the size of the shelter is. We have the capacity for 40 people year-round. We are currently having a waitlist but we are also assisting folks if they have no place to go at night to be able to come in."

She said the agency has been able to house over 50 people in the last several months through partnerships with the city's housing authority and local landlords, which is "unprecedented."

"I have had the opportunity multiple times to go through and take a look at it while it was being built or renovated and even while it's been open and it's a really nice space and has a real welcoming feeling," Dodds said.

Forbush explained that the new facility aims to create a community space and even loosely a "family" on some levels, with guests maintaining the space with chores and even leading the preparation of meals.

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